On the road again, ready to extend their two-game winning streak, the Mammoth (3-5) meet the Saskatchewan Rush (4-4) at SaskTel Centre on Friday night for the first of a two-game series between the teams this season. The Rush holds a 23-17 all-time record over the Mammoth, and the Mammoth have not beaten the Rush in a road match since April 2013 in Edmonton. But, with all that said, as fans saw last week, the Mammoth are a team that can win this game even if the odds and the predictions are against them.
Last Time Out
The Mammoth played their best game of the season against the Georgia Swarm at Pepsi Center last Saturday, pulling off a 10-8 victory worthy of the celebratory victory lap that the team took after the final buzzer.
For the second-straight week, Eli McLaughlin paced the Mammoth with a four-goal finish. McLaughlin now has 20 goals this season and is on-track to beat his current season-record of 29 goals.
Goaltender Dillon Ward, aided by a solid sixty-minute performance from the Mammoth’s defense, also played a noteworthy game, saving 33 of 41 shots and holding Georgia to eight goals in the contest; the least amount of goals the Swarm had scored in a game all season.
After dropping three-straight games, the Rush eked out a win over the Vancouver Warriors at Rogers Arena last Saturday. Coming out hot, offensively, both sides scored by 3:11 in the first quarter, and by halftime, the score was knotted at 7-7. Game action continued back-and-forth at a rate that could have given fans whiplash through the second half. At 12:11, a score by Vancouver’s Jordan McBride tied the game for the sixth time, this time at 13-13. But then Saskatchewan’s Jeff Shattler and Mike Messenger rallied and closed the final 1:50 of the game on a two-goal run that decided the 15-13 Rush win.
Last Time They Met
Colorado fell to Saskatchewan, 11-8, at home last April. The matchup marked the Mammoth’s first night back at Pepsi Center after a back-to-back road weekend brought them to Toronto and Rochester.
Looking fatigued in the first half, the Mammoth got outscored 5-2. The game spiraled further in the third quarter as Saskatchewan extended their lead to 10-4 on a five-goal run spanning into the final frame.
Late in the fourth quarter, Colorado saw an uptick in energy and took off on a four-goal comeback campaign to bring themselves within two goal of the lead, but the Mammoth couldn’t complete their rebound in the final minute and Saskatchewan’s Chris Corbeil scored an empty-netter to put the final score at 11-8 Rush.
In-net, the West Division rivals were evenly matched. In the Rush’s win, goalie Evan Kirk saved 34 of 42 shots. For the Mammoth, Dillon Ward came up with 35 saves on 45 shots.
What to Watch
Though Ryan Benesch, Eli McLaughlin, Ryan Lee and Kyle Killen are a fierce foursome, a winning game for the Mammoth on Friday night will probably not be a high-scoring game.
Take the contest last week between the Mammoth and the Swarm, for instance. The Mammoth won, but they only scored 10 goals. No other team has been able to beat Georgia with a 10-goal game this season, but that may be because no other team has NLL Hall of Fame defenseman Pat Coyle at the helm.
This season, Coyle’s team may not be one that wins many games by scoring more than ten goals but they are a team that will win games if they are able to hold their opponents to less than ten goals. Saskatchewan hasn’t been kept under 10 goals yet this season, but if any defense could hold them, it’s the Mammoth’s.
Who to Watch
After sitting out the second half of last Saturday’s game, Ryan Benesch is expected to be back in the Mammoth’s lineup this Friday. After being examined for a potential neck injury, Benesch had some stiffness initially, but is feeling well and says that he is ready to take the turf with his teammates once again, pending Coyle’s decision on Friday’s lineup.
As he only needs 31 points left to reach the 1,000-point club, look for Benesch to get right back to business, not to reach the accolade for himself, but for his team and his coaches to whom he attributes the credit for his success with the Mammoth.
The Mammoth will meet the Rush at SaskTel Centre in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan on Friday evening at 6:30 p.m. MST. Fans can live-stream the game on Bleacher Report Live.