NLL: “Beary” good game from Benesch as Mammoth move to 2-0

Georgia Swarm v. Colorado Mammoth at Pepsi Center, Saturday, Dec. 23, 2017, in Denver. (Photo by Jack Dempsey for the Colorado Mammoth)

Ryan Benesch’s first goal for the Colorado Mammoth was one that he won’t ever forget.

Benesch brought down a rain of stuffed animals onto the carpet at Pepsi Center with his goal at 3:56 of the second quarter as the Mammoth hosted their first-ever teddy bear toss in what turned into a 14-11 win over the Georgia Swarm.

Usually a hockey tradition, the teddy bear toss allows an organization to collect toys for children in need at Christmas. Because of the NLL’s early start date, the Mammoth were able to join in on the seasonal charitable giving, even manufacturing their own logoed bears to donate. All bears will be given to

Jacob Ruest opened the scoring, accepting a pass from Benesch as he cut to the net 4:13 into the first quarter. Shayne Jackson evened the game on a power play at 10:01 and that was all the scoring in the first 15 minutes as both Dillon Ward and Mike Poulin made some big stops.

Georgia outscored the Mammoth 4-3 in the second but Benesch’s goal was the highlight of the quarter. The Swarm led 5-4 at the half.

The game stayed close in the second half, with each team tallying three in the third. Zed Williams scored his first career NLL goal on a long pass from Poulin at 12:39. Ward caught a piece of the rolling ball but it skipped past him. That put the Swarm up 8-5 but three straight from the Mammoth tied the game at eight, culminating in a statement goal from Eli McLaughlin who picked a Jeremy Noble pass out of a crowd to beat Poulin.

Georgia briefly took a 10-8 lead but a six-goal run from the Mammoth stymied the defending champions. Josh Sullivan got things started at 8:04 of the fourth quarter, scoring his first goal in two years on a five-hole fast-break. Benesch’s hat-trick goal tied the game seconds later. Zack Greer dodged by the rookie Williams to put the Mammoth on top 11-10 at 10:33. Jacob Ruest and Joey Cupido gave the Mammoth some insurance late in the quarter while Noble picked up Ward’s rebound (yes, you read that right) to put the icing on the cake. Ward took a long shot on net which went wide and Noble picked up the bouncer off the boards to put it in uncontested.

Ward made a number of great saves throughout the game, including a mid-fourth-quarter stop on reigning league MVP Lyle Thompson, who had the fast-break and could have put the Swarm up by two at the time.

The win by the Mammoth puts them at 2-0 in the young season, while the defending champions fall to 0-2.

“For me in the first half, I made a conscious effort to improve my five-hole,” Swarm goaltender Mike Poulin said in a team press release. “You always try and play well like the guy you’re playing against, and Dillon Ward I think is the best goalie in the league. It was a bit of a close one in the first half, obviously. I think he and I were going save for save, so you want to just keep battling and give your team a chance.”

Lyle Thompson led the Swarm with seven points (2G/5A). Shayne Jackson contributed five points (3G/2A), Kiel Matisz four (2G/2A) and Randy Staats four (1G/3A). Benesch finished the game with six points (3G/3A) to lead the Mammoth. Jacob Ruest and Jeremy Noble had two goals and three assists each. Poulin made 42/55 saves and Ward 37/48.

Colorado is in Calgary on December 29th and the Swarm host the Knighthawks on the 30th.