John Grant Jr. Heads West To Denver To Deliver a Championship

Ron KnabenbauerCorrespondent IDecember 1, 2010

The Mammoth newest player, John Grant Jr. (Credit: Michael Martin)
The Mammoth newest player, John Grant Jr. (Credit: Michael Martin)

If John Grant Jr. was ever going to leave the Rochester Knighthawks, the only other team that he would want to play for would be the Colorado Mammoth.

He got his wish.

 “I was thrilled,” said Grant when he heard that he was traded to the Mile High City. “I think [Colorado] is one of the best organizations in the league if not the best. I thought they were very close from being one of the top teams (last season). They are just very young and I’m happy to help with some of my experience. I’m excited to come here; it was the only team that I would want to come to if I was to leave Rochester.”

In exchange for Grant, the Knighthawks received the rights of goaltender Matt Vinc, defenseman Matt Zash and forward Brad Self. Colorado also received in the Oct. 27 trade defenseman Mac Allen and Rochester’s first round selection in the 2011 and 2013 NLL Entry Draft.

Grant, who had spent his first ten seasons of his National Lacrosse League career with Rochester, accumulated 480 goals and 496 assists in his time in upstate New York. That breaks down to an average of 6.33 points per game.

Last season he totaled 83 points (39 goals and 44 assists). Not too bad for an older player who missed the entire 2009 season with an ACL injury.

In his last healthy NLL season before his injury, Grant actually finished with only nine points more than he had in 2010. He scored 47 goals and added 45 assists (92 points) in 16 games for the Knighthawks in 2008

Though his 2010 performance was impressive for a veteran player after missing an entire season, Grant knew he had dropped off a bit and wanted to get back to the high level that he was at before the injury—like in 2007 when he had a career high 111 points and was named league MVP.

For Grant, the best way to get back to that level was to play lacrosse. Lots and lots of lacrosse.

“I played I think more games than any other lacrosse player in lacrosse,” Grant said. “I played like 65-66 games or something in 2010. To play that many games, especially that many in the summer and at a high level—I think the future is bright for me and I think that I’ve got four to five years left of pretty good lacrosse.”

One of the Grant’s lacrosse ventures this past summer was in Major League Lacrosse where he showed that he could still roll with the younger studs of the game as he led the Toronto Nationals in scoring and finished seventh in the league in points with 36. Of the top seven scorers in the MLL, he was the oldest at age 36 and the only player to be born in the 1970’s. The former NLL Rookie of the Year also played in the Ontario Lacrosse Association in the summer where he helped lead the Peterborough Lakers to the Mann Cup title.

After a great summer, Grant is looking for a similar result this NLL season.

One reason why Grant was traded from Rochester was that the Knighthawks had brought in a couple of young scorers that could fill the stat sheet on game night like Grant could. In the 2010 NLL Entry Draft, Rochester selected forwards Cody Jamieson with the first pick and Jarrett Davis with the fifth pick, two top college scorers that they hope to build their franchise around in the near future.

However the Mammoth have a couple of young scorers of their own in brothers Ilija and Alex Gajic.

Yet the Gajic brothers’ rookie campaign was a roller coaster ride last season with Alex going through hot and cold stretches in scoring and Ilija never being able to sustain any momentum as he missed six games in the middle of the year due to an illness. 

Even with the Mammoth’s struggles last season in goaltending and on defense, maybe their biggest trouble was putting the ball in the back of the net as they ranked ninth in the 11 team league in scoring in 2010.

Other than being a leader in the locker room, Colorado head coach Bob Hamley expects Grant to not only score himself, but to light a fire under the younger players to score as well.

“He is going to be great for our young guys like Ilija Gajic and Alex Gajic and (Brad) Richardson and Ben Davies,” Hamley said

“Just his skill level and how he practices and how he carries himself is really going to help [the younger] guys.

Grant seems to be up to the challenge.

“Obviously I’m an older guy and I’ve got a lot of experience so I’m just looking forward to bringing these young guys along and hopefully the Mammoth can win a few championships before they send me out to pasture,” he said.

Since moving from Washington in 2002, Colorado has become one of the premier franchises and success stories in the NLL with them winning three division titles, winning the 2006 championship and having only one losing season in their first seven years of existence.

However the Mammoth had the toughest season its history last year with them finishing with a 4-12 record and failing to win a game at home and to make the playoffs, both firsts for the team. The squad also saw three different head coaches call the shots from the bench in 2010 as well.

Yet Colorado was competitive in most of their losses with them losing by one goal in six of their games. Two of the Mammoth’s one goal losses were against the eventual NLL champions, the Washington Stealth. If a few bounces went the Mammoth’s way in 2010, the team’s record might have looked very different then how it ended.

The addition of Grant they hope will change Colorado’s fortunes in many of their close games and return the team to championship glory.

Grant showed that he was committed to playing for Colorado and to help bring back a championship last month when he signed a three year contract with the Mammoth. A first for him.

“I’ve never signed more than a two-year deal in my ten years so I wanted them to know that I am pumped to be here and I’m in for the long haul,” Grant said.

However Grant won’t be able to help the team win by himself. He is going to need help. But even with some of the pressure that is already put on him, he said he is ready to get out there and show what he’s got.

Of course he also has 18,000 reasons to be motivated at the Pepsi Center.

“I wasn’t really well liked in there (the Pepsi Center) to begin with but I’m excited to have that many people cheering for me instead of booing me,” Grant said. “It is definitely going to be an added incentive every time I step on the floor.”