Last season was a trying time for the Colorado Mammoth.
One of the poster franchises in the National Lacrosse League had its worst season since moving to the Denver, finishing with a 4-12 record, missing the playoffs for the first time and failing to win a game at home in the usual friendly confines of the Pepsi Center.
This year the Mammoth are looking to get back on top of the NLL with young sniper scorers such as Alex and Ilija Gajic having now one season of experience and the addition of one of the best NLL scorers of all time, John Grant Jr.
I talked with Colorado head coach Bob Hamley last month at Mammoth training camp about the goalie situation, the young players and the acquisition of Grant. Here is part of my conversation with him.
Ron Knabenbauer: Is there a front runner for the starting goaltender position?
Bob Hamley: “Chris [Levis] was the guy that finished the year last year and gave us some quality minutes, so he has to be the leader in the clubhouse, but we are going to give everyone the opportunity to make the club.”
RK: What are your early impressions of goaltender Matt Cain?
BH: “Just the way I remember Matt Cain. I had him for a few games in Edmonton when he was there. He is a good kid, a good goaltender. The guys are making it tough on us [to choose the starting goalie] and that is what we want.”
RK: What is forward John Grant Jr. going to bring to this team?
BH: “John’s a superstar. We all know that. He is going to be great for our young guys like Ilija Gajic, Alex Gajic, [Brad] Richardson and Ben Davies. He’s a winner, he’s been a winner at every level and I’m excited about that and what he brings to our dressing room.”
RK: What is going to be Grant’s role on the team?
BH: “He’s going to be one of those leaders. We are going to ask a lot of guys that have been around to make the dressing room a big part of our team. I think it’s very important that our guys get along. We have a pretty compacted season, not much practice time so it is important that we have a unit that gets along and really enjoys being with each other and playing for each other. I expect John to help with that.”
RK: What have you seen from the younger guys after last season’s youth movement?
BH: “They got a year under their belt. Last year was tough. It is tough when you bring in a young group and rebuild because you still need a good mix of veterans and rookies. Last year was a tough year, and they learned from it. If they don’t learn from it, then I think we’re going to be in trouble. I think they have. They understand now what it takes. Coming into training camp they knew what to expect because they’ve been to one already. It will only help.”
RK: What kind of improvement have you seen with forward Alex Gajic?
BH: “I think we saw with Alex the last half of last year that he was unbelievable. He had a really good last half. We are hoping that he will carry that on and carry it through this season as well.”
RK: How far do you think this team can go this season?
BH: “Every coach, every team this time of year feels like they have a team that could win a championship. We are no different. We are trying to create a mindset here and trying to get back to where the Mammoth were. We got a lot of work to do, but we added some talent on offense, and we hope that we can get some goaltending to step up and give us a chance every night.”