This is a difficult game to write about. If the Mammoth won, well, it’s against the last place team in the East, so is it a good barometer of them doing well, or just playing well against an equally struggling team. If the Mammoth lose, than they must be horrible because they played an equally struggling team and lost. While there is some truth to that, it’s not wholly accurate either.
When you have such a small league that is so deep in talent, even the worst team is still dangerous and can turn things around in no time. Despite being 2-6, the Mammoth could still not only make the playoffs, they could still win the Champions Cup. Granted, they have a lot of work ahead of them to get to that point.
This team is difficult to watch. They’re as star studded as an all-star team, and despite going 11-5 last season , it’s almost like last season never happened. The Mammoth continue to struggle in almost every position. Earlier this week it was announced that struggling goalie Matt Roik had been cut and Tye Belanger signed after coming of the physically unable to perform list. As Roik has really only had one good game so far this season, this change was not wholly unexpected. Although it did surprise many fans when the Washington Stealth immediately picked him up and cut goalie Nick Patterson.
But I digress. The game against the Rochester Knighthawks was an exciting nail biter of a game. The lead changed hands several times and neither team was ever more than three goals up. It truly came down to the wire when Gavin Prout scored what would have been a game tying goal to send it in to overtime, except that the clock had expired before the goal crossed the line. Unlike in some sports, when the clock buzzes, the game is over regardless of whether the ball is in play, or in the air.
Both teams played hard last night, which is a good thing as it was an important game for both since both teams have been struggling this season. While I saw many improvements, the Mammoth still aren’t there. Passing continues to be sloppy and the Knighthawks blocked numerous passes and intercepted several more. The Mammoth were more aggressive about lose balls and the defense didn’t allow Rochester to get near the crease as often. A large percentage of their goals were from well utilized screens. Dan Lewis helped a lot as well. Despite only making 28 saves on 40 shots on goal, he was successful in an area that neither Chris Levis nor Matt Roik were. He was often able to capture the ball after a shot rather than allow a rebound. As the Mammoth have struggled to get those rebounds which allows the other team several subsequent shots on goal, this had a huge impact on the game.
One thing that continues to frustrate me as a fan though is John Grant Junior. When we had Gary Gait, many of us dubbed it the “Gary Gait Syndrome”. Basically, because Gat was such a phenomenal player, any time the game was on the line, or the offense had any doubt whether or not they could make the shot, they would automatically dish the ball to Gary Gait, regardless of whether he was being triple teamed or even if they had the better angle. Often times, passing to him didn’t make sense, but they did it because it was Gary Gait! The same seems to hold true for JGJ. This isn’t JGJ’s fault. He actually has stepped up and is passing the ball a lot more than he was a couple of season ago, however, the offense has the same issue. If the game is on the line, they will often send it his way despite that being exactly what the other team expects, despite heavy coverage, and often despite them having the better opportunity.
While I hate to point out the officiating, I also can’t ignore it in this game. It’s certainly the elephant in the room. Although it was nice that the refs essentially let them play and called very few penalties, there were also several plays from both sides that were dangerous and could have seriously injured players that warranted calls but received nothing. I say this against both teams. Paul Dawson and Rory Smith were both crossing the line into some dirty play. JGJ was knocked down several times with his helmet flying with no calls, a Mammoth player was charged into well after the play was whistled dead in front of the ref, Lewis was taken down, and yet, not a single call. In fact, there were only three penalties called the entire game. One for slashing, one for unsportsmanlike conduct, and a third I’m not entirely sure about. Definitely an under called game that thankfully did not get out of hand nor did anyone get hurt.
The Mammoth have a tough weekend ahead of them. They have back to back games against the Toronto Rock (6-3) and the Buffalo Bandits (5-4). This weekend will be a true test for where they currently are as a team. They’re deep with talent and certainly have the potential, it’s just a matter of coming together as a team and playing hard the entire game, not just a couple of quarters.