With 21 seconds left on the clock, Dillon Ward knew Team Canada would be victorious over Team USA in the 2014 World Lacrosse Championship.
When the final seconds chipped away under the bright lights of Dick’s Sporting Goods Park, Ward, goaltender for Team Canada and MVP of the tournament, was overwhelmed with emotion as he embraced his teammates with eyes full of tears.
Ward, now 31, reflected on that moment as the Colorado Mammoth netminder looked ahead to Game 2 of the NLL Finals against Buffalo on Saturday at Ball Arena. This is because former Team Canada teammate and all-time great goaltender Matt Vinc will be standing on the opposite end of the arena.
With the Mammoth down 1-0 after a 15-14 defeat in Game 1, the duel between Ward and the Bandits’ Vinc may very well decide if Colorado gets to send the best-of-three series back to Buffalo.
Despite the high-stakes factor of Saturday’s game, Ward says said he is not overthinking the moment, something he’s worked on since starting lacrosse as a youth in his hometown of Orangeville, Canada.
“There’s obviously more meaning to this game, but the reality is, the game is what it is — the same game I’ve played most of my life,” Ward said.
After goaltending for the Bellarine Knights from 2010-13, Ward was drafted third overall by the Mammoth in 2013 NLL draft.
Since then, he has made the Front Range his home, while also inserting himself directly into the Denver lacrosse community. He served as the Denver East High School varsity coach for three seasons, and has helped his fiancée coach girls youth lacrosse.
All the while, he’s been a rock for the Mammoth in goal.
“The organization is incredible,” Ward said. “I’ve been able to build some very special relationships with players and staff and I wouldn’t trade my time playing for the Mammoth for anything.”
Over the course of his eight years in Colorado, Ward has developed into one of the NLL’s top netminders. In 2017, he was named the NLL Goaltender of The Year, and he won gold in the world championships before and after that season as a part of Team Canada in 2014 and 2019.
Now he has the Mammoth in the NLL Finals for the first time since 2006 — two wins away from their first title since that same season.
Robert Hope, captain of the Colorado Mammoth, sees Ward’s calm demeanor and approach to games as key to the team’s success.
“He is low-key but has confidence in his abilities and I know we have confidence in him,” Hope said.
No doubt Buffalo has confidence in its goaltender, as well.
At 40 years old, Vinc is still one of the best in the world and could very well be named league MVP. He is a seven-time NLL Goaltender of the Year, and his dominance in the goal figures to be one of the Mammoth’s biggest obstacles going into Game 2.
Despite both players’ desire for the championship trophy, the rivalry between the two stays on the field. Ward has looked up to Vinc since he was a youth lacrosse player and holds him in high regard.
”He’s arguably the best to ever do it and hopefully I’m able to do just as well and we have a good battle on Saturday,” said Ward.
Ward and Hope share the same mentality as they prepare for Saturday’s game, not letting Game 1’s outcome affect their performance on Saturday. According to Hope, it’s anyone’s game.
“I think in especially lacrosse, it can be anyone’s year anytime, you just have to believe in it,” Hope said. “We gotta make sure we take advantage of this. These opportunities don’t come by very often.”
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