Mammoth Defeat Bandits to Claim First NLL Title Since 2006


Joey Cupido (82) leaps into goalie Dillon Ward's arms to celebrate after Colorado's 10-8 win over Buffalo in Game 3 of the NLL Finals on Saturday.

A National Lacrosse League season that lasted more than six months culminated Saturday in the crowning of a champion few foresaw — winning it all in a way even fewer would deem possible.

Dillon Ward made 55 saves and Zed Williams scored four goals to lead the Colorado Mammoth to a 10-8 victory over the Buffalo Bandits, spoiling the fun for most of the 19,060 fans who sold out the KeyBank Center for the decisive Game 3 of the NLL Finals.

Missing its top two scorers — Ryan Lee went on injured reserve hours before the West Conference Finals and Eli McLaughlin joined him there after Game 1 of this series — Colorado clinched its first NLL title since 2006. The Mammoth beat Buffalo in Buffalo that year as well.

“The only people that thought we could do this were the guys in the room,” forward Connor Robinson said in an ESPN interview on the floor after the game.

“I’ve been here for a while. To finally get over a hump and win a championship for the Colorado Mammoth back where the Mammoth last won a championship feels awesome,” added Ward, who was the third overall pick in the 2013 NLL draft. “It didn’t matter who was in and out of the lineup, who went down, we just found a way and stuck together.”

Ward outdueled Matt Vinc for the second straight game, earning NLL Finals MVP honors. Both Ward and Vinc were announced earlier in the day as finalists for the NLL Goaltender of the Year award. Vinc and teammate Dhane Smith are league MVP finalists along with Albany’s Joe Resetarits.

Buffalo outshot Colorado 63-47 and had an 87-51 advantage in loose balls, but the Bandits came up empty against Ward and the Mammoth’s underrated defense.

In the end, Buffalo was left still searching for their first championship since 2008.

“Home floor advantage, first place — at the end of the day it doesn’t mean anything,” Bandits coach John Tavares said on the broadcast. “You’ve got to go out and find a way to win.”

Colorado got used to playing with its back against the wall. In the first round, the Mammoth went on the road to upset Calgary, a team that has historically dominated the head-to-head series. They prevailed in a previous winner-take-all road game in the West finals, upending San Diego after the Seals forced a Game 3.

Facing elimination last week in Colorado, the Mammoth scored five unanswered goals to end the game in an 11-8 comeback win that sent the series back to Buffalo.

Colorado trailed early in Game 3 but scored two goals in the first minute of the second quarter to take a 4-3 lead and never trailed after that.

Buffalo tied the game on three different occasions, knotting it at 7 on Connor Fields’ goal 27 seconds into the fourth quarter. But Zed Williams (four goals, two assists) and Chris Wardle (one goal, five assists) responded with two goals in a span of just over two minutes to put the Mammoth ahead for good.

The Bandits shot just 3-for-38 in the second half.

“You don’t get here by accident. We've had a really strong defense all year. We just went out and we executed what we wanted to,” Ward said in the post-game press conference. “We played them hard. We forced them into situations I don’t think that they wanted to be in. And the shots that we gave up for the most parts were shots that I was looking for.”

Colorado coach Pat Coyle played for the Mammoth when they last won the NLL championship in 2006, noting that he hugged team doctor Deb Jacobson afterward and it triggered his memory of their embrace 16 years earlier.

“It brought it all back for me,” Coyle said. “I’m so lucky to be a part of the two championships with the Mammoth and they both happened here. Yeah, just really lucky.”


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