Game Preview

Game Preview: Colorado at New England

Colorado Mammoth (9-3) at New England Black Wolves (7-4)
At Mohegan Sun Arena
Saturday, April 2, 2016, 7 p.m.

Last Game: New England completed a home-and-home sweep of Rochester with a 10-8 victory on the road last Saturday night; The Mammoth clinched a playoff berth with a 13-12 overtime victory against Calgary on Saturday.

Players to watch:
New England – 2015 NLL MVP Shawn Evans (34 goals, 48 assists, 82 points, 79 loose balls) had three goals and four assists in the win at Rochester Saturday. Kevin Crowley (22 goals, 41 assists, 63 points) had two goals and three assists. Pat Saunders (28 goals, 23 assists, 51 points) had two goals. Kevin Buchanan (15 goals, 27 assists and 42 points), Jordan Hall (11 goals, 18 assists, 29 points) and Kyle Buchanan (17 goals, 17 assists, 34 points) also spark the offense.

Colorado – Callum Crawford (21 goals, 56 assists, 77 points, 60 loose balls), John Grant (24 goals, 37 assists, 61 points), Adam Jones (37 goals, 22 assists, 59 points) and Jeremy Noble (12 goals, 33 assists, 45 points) lead the offense.

Noteworthy:

  • This is the second meeting of the season between the teams. Colorado beat New England 14-13 on March 5th at the Pepsi Center. In that game, New England led 11-10 midway through the fourth quarter before Colorado struck for four straight goals to take a 14-11 lead with 3:51 left.
  • In the only meeting between these teams last year, on February 22nd at Mohegan Sun Arena, Colorado won 14-12.
  • Shawn Evans set NLL records for most points (130) and assists (83) last season with Calgary. He is on pace for 134 points this year. That likely will fall well short of Buffalo’s Dhane Smith, who is on track for to crush the record with 154 points after 12 games.
  • Adam Jones had seven goals in the first meeting of the season. He leads Colorado with 37 goals.
  • Callum Crawford had eight assists and 10 total points in the first meeting between the teams.
  • Colorado’s John Grant is one of the great players in NLL history, ranking No. 2 all-time in goals (660), fourth in assists (767), second in points (1,427) and ninth in loose balls (1,189). It was his single-season record for points (116 in 2012) that Evans broke last year.

New England Black Wolves coach Glenn Clark
Having a week off following two straight losses seemed to work out perfectly
“Somebody asked if it was a good time for a bye week after you lose. For us, it was actually good timing because some things had crept into our game, particularly defensively, and we had sort of three practices where we could work on some things that we had identified and thought were going to make us better prepared for Rochester. So it was time well spent and the players adjusted real well to the changes we wanted.”

Do you feel like you have fixed the defensive issues that plagued the team midway through the season
“Certainly, from a systematic standpoint, we were happy with last weekend. But it’s always the challenge with coaching. That’s why you don’t get good nights sleep. Things change so quickly. We thought we were good and under control on defense. Those first four games we were really doing a good job. And then bit by bit, the numbers started going up and then the wheels sort of fell off a little bit at Rochester three weeks ago, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing. We used a lot of video and did a lot of talking and we rebooted what we were doing. We got back to some things we wanted to do. We switched some things and changed some things and made some things a little bit more concrete, took a little bit of the decision making away from the players, not in a bad way, but just so they understood as a group and they didn’t have indecision on the floor. I think guys were seeing and doing different things at different times and not reading each other maybe as well as they should have so we tried to eliminate some of that on-the-fly decision-making.”

Talk about the defensive challenges posed by Colorado
“Obviously everyone looks at Jones and Crawford and some of their other big guns. But the problem with this game now is it’s too simple to say, ‘Wow, you have to shut down Jones.’ If you focus too much on Jones, John Grant is going to score six, and Callum Crawford will score and on and on and on. You really have to have a scheme. You pay attention and you want to make certain matchups and adjustments, but the key is always going to be playing good team defense and being responsible all over the floor because it’s not like you can double somebody in lacrosse and leave somebody open because anybody in this league is going to score if they’re left open. It’s not that simple to say, ‘Well, that guy is killing us so we’ve got to pay extra attention to him,’ because then someone else will kill you.”

It seems like that has to be the approach every week in this league
“I think it’s very similar challenge pretty much across the board. On most teams, all the guys can shoot, all the guys can get inside, all the guys can beat you underneath. So you scheme your defense fairly similarly. You make little tweaks here and there in terms of matchups, and maybe which side of the ball you want certain guys playing against. But for the most part, if you give guys time and space, they’re going to score. And if you’re not aware of protecting down low, or the way they pick and roll, they’re going to be beat you inside. Most teams can do both now so you really have to have a comprehensive game plan to defend everybody. And then the adjustments are, some teams are better in transition, some teams press a little bit more and different things like that. From an offensive unit, most of them, when you get them in that halfcourt, five-on-five stuff, they’re pretty dangerous in all areas.”

On legendary 41-year-old Colorado forward John Grant, now in his 17th NLL season
“I played quite a bit with John. I know him really well. The one thing he is, and I always used to laugh when I played against him, he’s a lot bigger than people think he is. He’s a big, strong man. I used to laugh about it because people would say, ‘Just knock him over.’ ‘Here’s a stick. You come out and try to knock him over.’ He uses his body. He pushes off guys. He’s probably got the greatest stick in the game, maybe ever. People make arguments about this guy, this guy and this guy. But I think, first blush, I would say he’s probably got the most talented stick in the game. He can do fakes, He can shoot through a wall. He can hit corners. He can make moves. He can pass from everywhere…he’s just dangerous everywhere. He’s refined his game a little bit. He probably distributes a little bit more than going one-on-two to the net like he used to, but he’s just so skilled and talented. His vision is good. He can make passes from anywhere. He’s a complete offensive package.”

The Black Wolves are in a good position for a playoff push. I guess the challenge is not to look ahead?
“It’s good from a league standpoint, but there are no breathers. You can’t look at a record and say, ‘Oh, good, this is going to be a good one for us.’ It (an easy game) doesn’t exist. Any team in this league is going to kick you in the shins if you take them (for granted). We’re not going to fall into that trap. We know there are no points for the half pole or the three-quarter pole. The only thing we’ve done is position ourselves.”

Next Game: The Black Wolves host Saskatchewan on Friday, April 8th at 7 p.m. For more information on the Black Wolves, visit blackwolves.com.