The Colorado Mammoth have a date with the Buffalo Bandits next Saturday, June 4th, as they kick off the 2022 NLL Finals in Banditland. It is their first appearance in the league finals since 2006.
The Mammoth defeated the San Diego Seals on Saturday evening 15-13 at Pechanga Arena, which was full with 7114 fans screaming their heads off. It was the loudest it’s ever been at a Seals game and they were loud until the final buzzer sounded, but they’ll have to wait until next season to cheer again. Colorado took the West Conference Final 2-1. The away team took every game in the series.
Eli McLaughlin led the Mammoth with 12 points made up of five goals and seven assists. McLaughlin leads the league in playoff scoring with 33 points (17G/16A).
The Mammoth and the Seals took the first quarter to feel each other out in the do-or-die game, each scoring twice. It was the goaltender’s game, with Dillon Ward and Frankie Scigliano making 11 and eight saves, respectively. There was a scary moment early in the first when Austin Staats went down behind the net and hopped off the floor, but he quickly returned and scored twice and assisted on two others later in the game.
San Diego came on strong in the second and lead 9-5 at halftime. Wes Berg had two goals in the quarter, and he led the team in scoring with four goals and two assists. Jeremy Noble had five assists in the game, his best coming on Berg’s first goal in the form of a backwards flip pass. Dane Dobbie scored a highlight reel goal, throwing an uncountable number of fakes and showing extreme patience as he waited out Ward.
“This year we grind being down and it feeds us,” McLaughlin said. “We went into the locker room (at halftime) knowing we were down, but knowing we could do it.”
Colorado held San Diego scoreless in the third and scored three of their own. Tyson Gibson scored a power play goal. Connor Robinson scored a backhand while he was tied up and falling down. McLaughlin’s second of the game pulled Colorado within a goal at 9-8.
Robinson tied the game 2:46 into the fourth quarter with a long bomb. Joey Cupido then scored a goal of the year candidate to give the Mammoth the 10-9 lead. Just click the link and watch it because I can’t even describe it. He had a defender draped all over him, managed to twist away from him, and scored AS HE WAS FALLING BACKWARDS.
McLaughlin then scored Colorado’s sixth straight goal. San Diego played catch up as best they could but was never able to find the equalizer.
With Colorado up 13-10 with under five minutes to play, Dobbie was awarded a penalty shot as the Mammoth were caught with too many men on the floor. He scored, of course. Staats followed that up 37 seconds later, shoveling in a low dish from Eli Gobrecht to bring San Diego within a goal. The crowd was already screaming, and the intensity was upped even more after the Seals had a goal waved off a minute later.
Berg made a great attempt that San Diego fans will swear went in the net along with Mammoth goaltender Dillon Ward. Video replay could not definitively find the ball, and Berg had fallen in the crease before it went in, anyway. The dagger to the heart of the Seals was that McLaughlin had scored just after Patrick Merrill threw the flag, so McLaughlin’s goal counted. Instead of tying the game, the Seals were suddenly down 14-12.
McLaughlin scored one more: a twister that went under Chris Origlieri’s glove, to end it. Berg scored one last highlight-reel goal for the Seals’ fans 45 seconds later, with a BTB finding the back of the net, but the Mammoth tied up the ball long enough after that that they took the win.
In the absence of Ryan Lee, the Mammoth have seen great performances from McLaughlin, Robinson and Zed Williams, and will count on these three to lead them through Banditland next weekend, as they face their toughest opponent yet in the Bandits, who feature their own players who regularly reach the highlight reels. It’ll be a high-flying, energetic final, that’s for sure, with two great goaltenders in Dillon Ward versus Matt Vinc. Lacrosse fans are in for a treat.