LEAGUE’S PRESENT, FUTURE ON DISPLAY ON ‘MILITARY APPRECIATION NIGHT’
Few prospects have been as highly touted as Colorado Mammoth forward John Grant Jr. was in the late ‘90s when he was drafted first overall in the 1999 National Lacrosse League Entry Draft. University of Denver alumnus Mark Matthews, who finished his Pioneer career in 2012 as the school’s all-time leader in goals (155) and points (216), is believed by some to be the next NLL superstar.
Grant is coming off a record-setting year in 2012 in which he set the league’s all-time, single-season points record (116) and claimed his second MVP award. Matthews was the first overall pick by the Edmonton Rush in October’s draft. On Saturday night at 7pm MST on HealthONE Field at Pepsi Center, the two take the floor as opponents at the pro level for the first time.
“I’m not sure you can contain [Matthews] but we will try to limit as many chances on him,” said Mammoth head coach Bob Hamley. “He’s started off really well and he will be a great player in our league for a long time.”
The 6’5”, 230-pound forward was the league’s Rookie of the Month in January and is Edmonton’s top scorer. Grant, at 6’2” and 224 pounds, leads the NLL this season with 3.4 goals per game.
But Grant, after an 11-point effort and NLL Offensive Player of the Week honors against the Minnesota Swarm two weeks ago, was limited to one assist against the Washington Stealth last Saturday.
“It’s always important to get the offense going early and [Grant] is part of that offense,” said Hamley. “We’ve talked about it all week that we need to get off to better starts. We haven’t had too many good starts and we need to improve on that.”
As the Mammoth (2-3) attempts to climb back to the .500 mark this season, the Rush plays tonight in Edmonton before traveling to Colorado on Saturday.
“Back-to-back games are always tough,” said Rush forward Jarrett Davis. “It’s going to be a chance for other guys and our depth to showcase themselves. From a player’s perspective, sometimes it is nice to have back-to-back games because a loss or a win is fresh in your mind so you can use that motivation to drive forward.”
Edmonton enters the weekend with a 1-4 record, seemingly indicative of a poor start. But two of the four losses have been by just a goal, and another by two.
“Edmonton will be hungry,” said Hamley. “They have lost some tough games so far. We know we’ve got our hands full.”
Hamley and the Mammoth have gotten a recent boost from an unlikely source: transition player Joey Cupido, a fifth-round draft pick in 2011. He has arguably been Colorado’s best (and to some, unnoticed) player in its last two games. Against Washington, Cupido tallied his first career goal and 12 loose balls.
“Guys like Joey Cupido don’t get talked about a lot,” said Hamley. “Joey had a great game last week. He has great speed and anticipation and he is growing more and more confident every game.”
The Mammoth celebrates ‘Military Appreciation Night’ this Saturday against the Rush. Colorado players will don the names and military branches of active and retired members of the U.S. Armed Forces on their chests while sporting commemorative camouflage uniforms. Military personnel will be honored throughout the game, and an Oath of Enlistment will take place at halftime on the field. At the conclusion of the game, a special ‘Jerseys Off Our Backs’ ceremony will occur as Mammoth players will present their game-worn jerseys and shorts to fans. Tickets to ‘Military Appreciation Night’ are on sale now at the Pepsi Center box office, all Colorado Dick’s Sporting Goods retail kiosks, online at TicketHorse.com, or by calling 303.53.HORSE.