The Finals are set: the Bandits will take on the Colorado Mammoth for the 2022 NLL title. This is a rematch of the 2006 Finals, the only other Championship appearance for the Mammoth, where they beat the Bandits 16-9. Nobody who played in that game is still an active player, but the lineups included both current head coaches (Pat Coyle and John Tavares), as well as Bandits GM Steve Dietrich, Knighthawks GM Dan Carey, and a few other head and assistant coaches from around the league: Dan Stroup, Chris Gill, and Billy Dee Smith.
The Mammoth come back again
The 2022 Colorado Mammoth are the only team in NLL history to come back from 6-goal deficits to win twice in the same season.
— NLL Fact of the Day (@NLLFactOfTheDay) May 18, 2022
They weren’t down by six in this one, though they were down by four twice. But if there’s one thing we’ve learned this season, it’s this: don’t ever count the Mammoth out. Still without 119-point scorer Ryan Lee, they were able to chip away at the Seals lead thanks to Eli McLaughlin, Connor Robinson, Joey Cupido, and some stellar goaltending by Dillon Ward. Early in the fourth they tied it again and then took the lead on Cupido’s incredible goal (see below). San Diego scored a couple to get back into it but the Mammoth wouldn’t let them get all the way back.
Dillon Ward in the second half
Ward had some trouble in the first half, allowing seven goals in the second quarter. But after halftime, Ward was untouchable for over twenty minutes. He only allowed four goals in the entire second half, and one of those was a Dane Dobbie penalty shot, and it’s hard to blame any goalie for allowing a goal on one of those. We even saw an attempted replay of the OT goal that beat him last weekend, but this time he stopped it.
Ward had a 2-7 record in the playoffs before this season, having been eliminated by Calgary five times. This year, they got by the Roughnecks in the first round. It looks like Ward has decided that now that that hurdle was jumped, nothing else will stand in his way of bringing a Championship to Colorado.
McLaughlin tied a league record with 12 points (6+6) in game 3, and also managed to accomplish something nobody else has ever done – two sock-tricks in the same playoffs. In fact, only two other players have ever had two sock-tricks in the playoffs at all – Mike Accursi and Curtis Dickson, and they each did it five years apart.
Update: The boxscore I originally downloaded had McLaughlin with 6 goals and 6 assists. It was later updated to be 5+7, so he’s only got one sock-trick. So far.
Joey Cupido’s goal
Almost four minutes into the fourth quarter, Cupido is heading down the floor on a transition play, as he’s done a million times before. It’s not a breakaway but even on a transition one-on-one, everyone knows he’s a serious threat to score. Patrick Shoemay does a pretty good job of containing Cupido and not letting him get a clean shot but it doesn’t matter. Cupido spins in mid-air and while falling, throws a behind-the back shot that gets by Scigliano to give the Mammoth the lead for the first time since they led 3-2 early in the second. I don’t think Cupido knew exactly where the ball was going (meaning he wasn’t exactly aiming five-hole, he may not have been aiming at all), but the ability to even know where the net was at that point and to be able to get a shot off anywhere in that direction is amazing. The fact that it went in was gravy.
No title for Brodie Merrill
Merrill is one of the most accomplished players in NLL history. First overall draft pick, Rookie of the Year, Defensive Player of the Year, Transition Player of the Year (x3), Captain of four different teams, holder of the all-time loose ball record, and a lock for first-ballot Hall of Famer. He’s also a decent field player. The one thing that has eluded him is an NLL Championship. He’s been to the finals twice – in 2008 with the Portland LumberJax and 2015 with the Rock, but his chance to do that in 2022 vanished on Saturday night. Merrill will be 41 by the time the 2023 season begins. He’s still an impact defender, does he have another season in him?