March 30, 2011

Stevens on NLL: Colorado Resurgence Sets Up 'Epic Weekend'

by Neil Stevens | LaxMagazine.com


Brian Langtry said "the weight of the world just fell off" after Colorado snapped a 13-game home losing streak Saturday with a come-from-behind, 9-8 overtime victory over Boston.

© Larry Palumbo

Everybody associated with the National Lacrosse League knew that the 2011 season was going to be something special.

The pro circuit's 25th year has been that and more. As John Grant Jr. promised after scoring his sensational winning goal the other night, the best is yet to come. Get ready. Playoff time is around the corner, and each and every game is an intense battle.

The thrilling finish to the Boston-Colorado game was an example of what the NLL is all about: Grant walks a tightrope at the front edge of the crease to wiggle around a defenseman. He gets off a bounce shot as he's falling, and the ball crosses the goal line a split second before his chest hits the floor in overtime.

Most of the 17,123 spectators in Denver's Pepsi Center were on their feet during extra time, and they erupted in joyous celebration. The goal was confirmed after an agonizing wait for a video review, and the crowd roared again.

Grant had worked his magic to give the Mammoth a 9-8 victory over the visiting Blazers, who led 8-5 with just over six minutes left in regulation time.

"Anytime you win a hard-fought game like that there is so much relief and excitement," said Mammoth forward Gavin Prout. "To win in front of more than 17,000 screaming, cheering fans who are just as excited for the win as the players is extremely special and brings goosebumps."

It was Colorado's first home win since April 2009. There had been 13 consecutive home losses, all of them after Prout was traded away. GM Steve Govett got him back and, presto, the streak ended the first night Prout is back in Mammoth colors. And it was Prout's goal that ignited the fourth-quarter rally.

"It was very satisfying contributing to the win," he said. "I didn't shoot well, but helped out in as many other aspects of the offense as I could. I'm looking forward to seeing what this very talented, hard-working offense can do once we fully gel with each other."

Grant was quick to share the glory after his huge goal.

"Junior was the first player to say it was a team win, that everyone contributed," Prout said. "I seconded the notion in the locker room, and added that big-time players make big-time plays, and that our best player did that for us on Saturday. Everyone was obviously euphoric about the win, and it was a well-deserved and much-needed win for the team, the organization and the fans."

Brian Langtry harkened back to the 2006 championship run.

About the Author

Neil Stevens has covered pro and Canadian lacrosse since 1971. He and the late Tom Borrelli -- a longtime LM contributor -- are the only media members recognized by the NLL Hall of Fame. Check laxmagazine.com/nll for more.

"The last time I felt that good after a win was when we beat Calgary in OT in '06," the Mammoth forward said. "It probably shouldn't have felt that good but, since we had been so close to winning so many times at home, the weight of the world just fell off. It wasn't so much about just beating a great Boston team. There was a sense that now we can move forward.

"I'm glad we won the way we did, coming back against such a talented team and getting a win our fans so strongly deserved feels amazing."

Govett's trade deadline acquisitions -- Prout, three-goal shooter Joel Dalgarno and defenseman Ian Hawksbee -- helped immensely.

"Hawksbee has shut me down for years, so it was fun to watch him frustrate others," Langtry said. ''Dalgarno shot the lights out and Prouter is the best teammate there is. I think Steve Govett made moves that are going to help us get right back into this thing."

All the excitement wasn't restricted to Denver last weekend. There were two thrillers Friday, too: Rhys Duch scored with less than one second remaining to give the Washington Stealth a 9-8 win over the visiting Blazers, the hard-luck team of the weekend; and Zack Greer scored his fifth goal of his game with 3.5 seconds left as the Edmonton Rush nipped the visiting Minnesota Swarm 14-13.

Parity in the league got tighter than ever when the Orlando Titans dropped out last year and all the talent was squeezed into 10 rosters. The players knew it would be a highly competitive season, they came prepared and, boy, have they delivered.

If this league ever gets the TV exposure and media attention it deserves, it will achieve the breakthrough it has always envisioned by those who run it and by the sport's diehard fans.

As for the Mammoth, they play two games against the Edmonton Rush this weekend -- at Edmonton on Friday and in Denver on Saturday -- that will likely determine which of the two teams makes the playoffs.

Said Langtry: "This weekend is going to be epic."


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