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Thunderbirds beat Mammoth 12-9, remain undefeated

Colorado Mammoth’s Jordan Gilles, left, and teammate Tim Edwards knock sticks with Halifax Thunderbirds’ Jake Withers for the airborne ball early in the first half of play at the Scotiabank Centre Saturday. (ERIC WYNNE/Chronicle Herald)
Colorado Mammoth’s Jordan Gilles, left, and teammate Tim Edwards knock sticks with Halifax Thunderbirds’ Jake Withers for the airborne ball early in the first half of play at the Scotiabank Centre Saturday. (ERIC WYNNE/Chronicle Herald)

Something had to give Saturday night at the Scotiabank Centre.

The Halifax Thunderbirds and Colorado Mammoth both entered the National Lacrosse League contest on three-game winning streaks so only one of them would be leaving the arena still on a run. Thanks to a dominant defensive effort in the second half, the Thunderbirds prevailed 12-9 to give them their fourth straight victory.

"I think maybe because of the bye week we were a little slow starting and Colorado came with good pace," said Halifax captain Graeme Hossack. "They're a good team so we should've been expecting that. They capitalized on their chances early and then in the second half we responded well. We didn't start getting down on each other and we battled hard.

"That's part of our identity but also that we've got to keep learning. We have some young guys and they're learning well. I'd say in the first half I let some of those guys down but we battled back and we carried each other when we struggled a bit so that's all we can ask."

The Thunderbirds (4-0) also had their season-long unbeaten streak on the line. A loss would've been their first blemish of the year and first in franchise history.

"It's always nice when you come into a new market and you can win and have positive games for the fans and good news in the media versus another loss," said Halifax assistant captain

Scott Campbell. "Being able to bring in a core group of guys from the team before helps a lot because we're going to keep growing with the young guys. It's going to be an exciting team for a while."

A rough start created problems for the Thunderbirds. The Mammoth (3-2) scored on their first two possessions and stretched their lead to 4-0 before the game was six minutes old.

But Halifax chipped away and a three-goal spurt in the final two minutes of the second quarter cut Colorado's lead to 7-6 by halftime. The Thunderbirds took their first lead in the opening minute of the second half and then setteld in for a defensive standoff with the Mammoth that gradually turned into a one-way battle.
Halifax outscored Colorado 6-2 in the second half and one of the Mammoth goals came in the final minute when the game was already effectively decided.

"It was just getting back to our principles," Hossack said. "We were struggling a bit and running around too much in the first, and they capitalized. Once we settled down, started playing with pace, chatting more and playing together the way we know we can, we were able to shut them down and get the win."

Hossack, Cody Jamieson, Eric Fannell and Ryan Benesch each scored twice for Halifax and Chris Boushy, Stephen Keogh, Brad Gillies and Clarke Petterson had one each. Ryan Lee scored three for Colorado, Jeff Wittig and Chris Wardle had two each and Kyle Killen and Joey Cupido added singles.

Warren Hill turned aside 48 shots for the Thunderbids and Jake Withers won 17 of 25 face-offs. Dillon Ward made 47 saves for the Mammoth.

"Warren has been playing unbelievable," Campbell said. "I think he started a little slow, and so did the whole team, but then he just shut the door. They've got an all-world goalie down at the other end so it was a bit of a defensive battle through the middle of the game, then our old guys turned it on and it just went from there. It was exciting the way we finished."

It was another good crowd for the new NLL franchise, with announced attendance coming in at 7,623. This was the team's third home game out of a total of nine at the Scotiabank Centre for the regular season and the Halifax players say they can notice a difference in the engagement by the fans.

"That was unexpected, 100 per cent," Campbell said. "We've been building game to game and this game they were really into it. It was awesome. It was a great atmosphere tonight.

"I don't think there's a ton of box lacrosse in Nova Scotia so we found it a little bit quiet early on because it seemed like people were wondering 'What's going on, what's that play?' It seems now fans are getting a little more educated and you can tell out there with the atmosphere. People were really following it and I think if we keep winning, people will keep coming. I think it's pretty exciting."

The Thunderbirds' next game is at home against the San Diego Seals on Saturday.

"It's awesome playing here so we can't wait until next weekend," Hossack said. "The crowd was great tonight and really cheered us on in the second half. They got a lot louder and I was able to hear them. The games are only getting harder from here so another one at home will be great."
 

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