On a night celebrating their youngest fans, the Colorado Mammoth’s “Kids Night” featured young commentators and in-arena game contestants, but overall, ended in disappointment. Despite hat tricks from both Eli McLaughlin and Jeremy Noble, the Mammoth dropped their first game of the new year to the Saskatchewan Rush 17-12.
Both teams entered the game undefeated, and the winner would not only be the last undefeated team in the league, but also take sole possession of the division lead. The Mammoth were also looking to get revenge after the Rush ended their season in the Western Division Finals last season, beating the Mammoth 2-0 in the series, and 5-1 on the season.
Head coach Pat Coyle was aware of how potent the Rush offense was, averaging 18 goals per game entering the matchup.
“We know they’re gonna run the ball, we know they’ve got a really polished offense that works well as a unit,” Coyle said ahead of the contest. “We’re going to try and take away their transition — their fast breaks — and really pack it in on defense. Try not to let them do the things they want to do and let us dictate a little more on the back end.”
But unfortunately, the Mammoth would not be able to slow the powerful Rush offense.
The Mammoth started hot when Joey Cupido put away the first shot of the game off of the face-off just 14 seconds into the opening quarter. Fellow defenseman Taylor Stuart followed up to give the Mammoth a 2-0 lead. But it would wind up being their biggest lead of the night as Saskatchewan buckled down on defense and ramped up their offense, putting together a 3-1 run to end the first quarter tied.
Saskatchewan began to frustrate the Mammoth on both sides of the ball, taking their own two-goal lead early in the second quarter after a breakaway goal by Rush forward Mike Messenger left Mammoth goalie Dillon Ward falling in the wrong direction when he bit on a fake. The Rush capitalized on the Mammoth’s frustrations, forcing two undisciplined penalties and scoring on both. By the end of the half, the Rush had already put up eight goals on a Mammoth team that was holding opponents to just an average of under nine goals per game previously.
Frustrations continued into the third quarter as the Rush extended their lead to seven despite goals from McLaughlin and Noble. Frustrations continued to affect the Mammoth play, as Benesch threw a ball away over a teammate’s head, and Zack Greer stepped into the Rush’s crease to get a rebound, allowing refs to waive off a goal. Colorado could only manage nine shots in the quarter, and the Rush answered both goals within a minute, shutting down any momentum the Mammoth hoped to grab, and holding a seven goal lead entering the final quarter.
The late comeback hopes began when McLaughlin and Noble netted their second goals of the night, bringing the deficit to within five, but the Rush killed the comeback attempt with their 15th goal, pushing the lead back to six and forcing Ward out of the game — replaced by backup goalie Steve Fryer. McLaughlin and Noble would both complete their hat tricks late in garbage time, finishing the game 17-12.
The Mammoth’s next game will be at home against the Vancouver Stealth on Jan. 26. They will be celebrating “Blackout Night” by wearing special all-black uniforms and “blacking out” ticket fees for fans.
Eli McLaughlin led both teams with four goals. He now has eight on the season, good enough for second on the team behind Ryan Benesch.
Jeremy Noble had four assists, and Jacob Ruest had six assists, tying them for the team lead on the season at 16.
Dillon Ward was pulled from the game in the fourth quarter with 6:36 remaining. He allowed 15 goals on 50 shots. Backup Steve Fryer allowed two goals on four shots.