Earlier this season, Joe wrote about the Colorado Mammoth’s balanced offense. The Colorado defense deserves recognition as well. Led by 2017 Goaltender of the Year Dillon Ward, no team has allowed fewer goals than the Mammoth this year (26). Ward, in GOY form, leads the league in GAA (8.67) and save percentage (82.8%). The netminder will be the first to tell you that he cannot take all of the credit. The defensive backline communicates well and forces shooters into favorable spots for Ward.
The Mammoth have one of the best settled defenses in the league; opponents are shooting a league-low 9.52% against Colorado in 5-on-5. Their pick-and-roll defense is a significant reason why. Pick-and-roll operators are shooting 6.45% against the Mammoth (lowest in NLL); roll men aren’t shooting much better (16.67%). There are multiple ways to defend the pick-and-roll: Defenders can stay on their man and fight through the screen, switch when the picker initiates the action, or double the ball handler immediately. Colorado elects to switch on all picks and strategically defend the play.
In general, the number one commandment of defense is not to allow top side. The clip above shows that the Mammoth defensemen honor this edict. The defenders in each play position their bodies to force the ball carrier down the alley. Naturally, the shooter’s angle decreases. One other detail to notice is how the off-ball defender gets physical with the picker; delaying the roll action.
The Mammoth have elite defenders on their team. They know how to play the proper position, without being too aggressive, while having an active stick. Displayed above are two examples of the switching defender disrupting the play. Greg Downing plays the pick correctly then attacks the ball handler forcing the turnover. In the second play, Bryce Sweeting notices Curtis Manning winding up and instinctively raises his stick to block the shot.
The Mammoth seem to dare shooters to take outside shots. Ward probably prefers shots from 10 or more yards out rather than right on top of him. Josh Sullivan and Jordan Gilles defended the pick action on the left wing; neither commit to the ball carrier initially. Corey Small cannot resist the hands-free space and fires the ball at the feet of Ward. Next, Logan Schuss fights through Joey Cupido’s check and gets to the middle of the floor. Robert Hope patiently plays center field and does not aggressively attack Schuss; Ward eats the proceeding shot.
Of course, the defense cannot be perfect on every play. Off-ball defenders must be ready on a second’s notice to help their teammate. Greg Downing shows his versatility as a defender. While engaging his man, he keeps his eyes on the ball. Once Scott Carnegie gets beat, Downing immediately coma slides to intervene.
The Mammoth defenders have the luxury of Dillon Ward standing in front of the 4-by-4. In the clip above, Johnny Powless wins top-side off the pick action; Ward stands tall, makes the clutch shoulder save and dives on the loose ball.
The combination of the aforementioned players and tactics have stymied Colorado opponents. The Mammoth have only allowed four goals this season to pick-and-roll ball-carriers and roll men combined. The two-man game will be vital to the team’s success in the long run. Their defense will be put to the test this weekend against the potent Saskatchewan Rush offense.