NLL: Fryer’s first start is a Mammoth win

Buffalo Bandits vs. Colorado Mammoth at Pepsi Center, Saturday, March 3, 2018, in Denver. (Photo by Jack Dempsey for the Colorado Mammoth)

Less than 24 hours after a clutch victory in Georgia, the Colorado Mammoth flew 2000 km back home to Denver, pulling out an 8-7 win against the Buffalo Bandits in front of 16,062 fans on Colorado Pride night. The two wins move Colorado to 7-3 on the season and give them a solid lock on second place in the west. Buffalo’s record drops to 6-5, which has them situated just behind New England in the east.

With a lot of people eyeing Shawn Evans in his first game as a Bandit, it was Colorado back-up goaltender Steve Fryer getting his first NLL start who stole the show. Fryer, who found out moments before game time that he was going to be starting, played an extremely solid game stopping 45 of 52 shots for a save percentage of 0.865.

“We had our coaches meeting right before we went out on the floor. Dillon [Ward] wasn’t in the room, so I kind of knew something was up,” Fryer told NLL TV after the game. “I walked out; he walked up to me and said, ‘the net’s yours tonight.’ My first start, six years in this league, I’ve been waiting for this moment.”

Fryer and the rest of the Colorado defence did an excellent job of containing the Bandit offence. Buffalo came into Denver averaging 13.8 goals per game and a roster containing three players in the top 10 of NLL scoring.

“At the end of the day, when our backs were against the wall, we answered the bell and that shows the character in our locker room. We could have used excuses galore, like we were tired from traveling, but the character of our locker room wouldn’t let that happen,” said Fryer.

After a tight first quarter with Buffalo holding a 2-1 lead, Colorado started to find their rhythm in the second. The Mammoth scored four times including a nice quick-stick goal from Chris Wardle on a cross-floor pass from Jacob Ruest. At the end of the second quarter, the Bandits had failed to score and were down 5-2.

The third quarter opened with Colorado again exploiting the Buffalo defence with a cross-floor pass and quick-stick goal. This time it was Ruest’s turn to finish the play and give the Mammoth their fifth straight goal. However, the Bandits ended that run with the goal of the game. As the ball rested in the Mammoth crease, Jordan Durston was able to scoop the ball up with one hand on his stick, and then fire a behind the back shot that beat Fryer. The goal sparked the Bandits, and 10 seconds later they scored again to narrow the margin. Unfortunately for the Bandits, the Mammoth once again found the cross-floor pass open and Benesch scored on a pass from Noble. Zack Greer finished the third quarter scoring with a bomb from just inside the restraining line giving Colorado an 8-4 lead.

For the first seven minutes of the fourth quarter, Fryer and the Colorado defence locked down the Bandits’ offence. With 7:04 remaining, Buffalo finally got the break they needed. A Dhane Smith goal was disallowed, but head coach Troy Cordingley challenged the ruling and the call was overturned. From there, Smith put Buffalo on his back and willed his team to get back into the game. Smith assisted on a Mitch Jones goal before scoring his third goal of the game making the score 8-7 with 3:40 left to play. Both teams put up a furious effort in the last minutes, but it was Colorado who was able to hold on for the victory.

In his first game with the Bandits, Shawn Evans finished with just one assist. Though splitting time with Vaughn Harris, Evans still managed to register 10 shots on net and scoop five loose balls. Dhane Smith scored three time and added two assists, while rookie standout Josh Byrne scored once and added three assists.

Jeremy Noble paced the Mammoth attack with a goal and five assists. Jacob Ruest (1G, 3A) and Ryan Benesch (2G, 2A) were the Mammoth’s other leading scorers.