Mammoth Book Return Trip to NLL Finals: 'Ward Was the Difference'


Dillon Ward shut out the Calgary Roughnecks for the final 26 minutes in a deciding Game 3.

The Colorado Mammoth have climbed back up the mountain as the No. 4 seed in the West Conference, and in doing so, they have set up an unlikely rematch of last year’s National Lacrosse League Finals.

Dillon Ward shut out the Calgary Roughnecks for the final 26 minutes in a deciding Game 3 — narrowly edging friend Christian del Bianco in a goalie duel for the ages and setting the Mammoth offense up for a game-closing three-goal run in their 9-7 come-from-behind victory.

“[Ward] was the difference,” Roughnecks coach Curt Malawsky said. “I think it all starts and ends with Dillon Ward.”

Ward, looking to win a third straight championship after titles last year with the Mammoth and the Premier Lacrosse League’s Waterdogs LC, had to be at his best in the second half to exceed del Bianco’s performance. Neither goalie allowed a score for nine-plus minutes stretching from the third quarter into the fourth, leaving the game at a 7-6 standstill in favor of the Riggers.

Zed Williams finally equalized with 8:52 remaining, ending a 26-minute scoring drought for Colorado. A bit over two minutes later, defenseman Warren Jeffrey notched the eventual winner. After snagging a loose ball in his own end, Jeffrey ran the length of the floor and beat del Bianco with a five-hole bouncer to play the unexpected role of hero.

“We’re very fortunate to be able to play in front of D. Ward,” Mammoth captain Robert Hope said. “We have tons of confidence in our offense. We knew they would get going. We just had to wait a little bit for that.”

Ward made four enormous saves in the final minute and a half, none more dramatic than his stop of Tyler Pace with 20 seconds remaining. After Calgary forced a turnover on a restart out of a timeout, Pace turned a 2-on-1 chance into a point-blank opportunity. Ward stood his ground, Colorado grabbed the loose ball and Connor Robinson added an empty netter with 14 seconds on the clock to keep Colorado’s dreams of repeating as champion alive.

“It was a great series,” Malawsky said. “I think we’re splitting hairs. The difference was by millimeters.”

Up next for Colorado is a date with the Buffalo Bandits, who kicked back and watched this weekend after a dominant two-game sweep of Toronto. While Colorado’s postseason experience has induced some nail biting — its three wins were by a combined four goals — Buffalo has rolled to three victories with a margin of nine or more.

Of course, Colorado has reason to be confident. The Bandits were the favorites last year, too, when the Mammoth won their second championship in franchise history. The group is also healthier than it was last season and already has a triumph against a No. 1 seed under its belt thanks to a first-round upset of San Diego.

“They’ve played really well this year, watching them and seeing what they’ve done in the playoffs,” Hope said of the Bandits. “It’ll be a tough series. I know they’re very hungry.”

This marks the first time the NLL has seen a championship rematch since the Washington Stealth and Toronto Rock squared off in 2010 and 2011. Buffalo is hoping history repeats itself, as those squads each walked away with one title.


Saturday, May 27

Mammoth at Bandits, 7:30 p.m.

Monday, May 29

Bandits at Mammoth, 4 p.m.

Saturday, June 3 (if necessary)

Mammoth at Bandits, 7:30 p.m.


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