January 5, 2016
John Grant Jr., the oldest player in the NLL, scored the game-winning goal for Colorado against Georgia as the league kicked off its 30th season on Friday night. (Photo Jack Dempsey/nll.com)
John Grant Jr., the oldest player in the NLL, scored the game-winning goal for Colorado against Georgia as the league kicked off its 30th season on Friday night. (Photo Jack Dempsey/nll.com)

New Year, Same Old Junior as John Grant Shines

by Neil Stevens | Twitter

The score was tied with a minute left and John Grant Jr. wanted the ball. He got it and he did what more than 15,000 eyewitnesses in Denver’s Pepsi Center hoped he would: he won the game, 16-15, for the Colorado Mammoth.

He has done it so many times.

This winning shot in the first NLL game of the new season came with defenseman Alex Crepinsek tight against Grant at the front of the Georgia crease. Grant is a left-side shooter. Crepinsek had his stick against Grant’s right arm. Grant moved his stick high and made as if he was going to take a shot over his back but quickly went to his forehand instead and whipped an overhand bullet over Swarm goalie Zach Higgins and under the crossbar.

The crowd erupted.

“I want the ball with a minute to go,” Grant said in describing the winning play. “Fortunately, my team had faith in me and I was able to provide what we needed.”

Teammate Chris Wardle helped it happen by sucking his check into following him towards the side boards, freeing up plenty of floor space for Grant to do what he does best.

“Chris gave himself up for the team and that gave me that opportunity,” Grant said. “That’s the kind of player he is. That’s one of the reasons why they brought him in this year.’’

Like most teams, Mammoth players select their player of the game in the dressing room before heading into the showers. The prize has varied from year to year. There was a lunch box one year, a hard hat another year, an ugly tie, even GM Steve Govett’s Jr. A lacrosse helmet. The prize this year is a game ball. Grant got it after his seven-point effort last Friday night.

“It always helps when your last shot goes in,” he said.

Grant likes the addition of right-side forward Callum Crawford.

“He’s a big boy who demands a lot of respect on that side.’’

Ten Colorado players scored goals.

“I was two (goals) and five (assists), (Adam) Jones was three and four, Crawford and (Jeremy) Noble were two and four and when your top players are getting more assists than goals you know the ball is moving around. We have more weapons on offense this year. Eli McLaughlin came in 20 pounds heavier, a full season under Noble’s belt will help him . . . Our offense is going to be potent as long as we stay within our systems and work hard.’’

The defense can’t allow as many as 15 goals every game but Grant says some of the lapses in the opener were partly due to the offense giving the ball up and allowing too many fast Georgia breaks.

“We’ve added some size and some speed back there. We’re young there, now but the sky is the limit with that group. And we’ve got two excellent goaltenders.’’

Grant is wearing an A on his chest instead of the C this season. The powers that be decided some of the younger players needed greater leadership roles. Defenseman Dan Coates is the captain this year, which is fine with Grant.

“I just put my head down and play,” he said.

The retirement of Buffalo Bandits legend John Tavares leaves 41-year-old Grant as the oldest player in the NLL. He’s in the second year of a three-year contract. Will he seek an extension?

“We’ll see. My job is to help our offense and I’ll continue to do that. I’ll play as long as my body allows me to. I love the game. As long as I am able to contribute, I’ll keep playing.”

The victory enabled the players to fully enjoy a special weekend. Mammoth players were provided a Pepsi Center suite to watch the Colorado Avalanche home game Saturday night. Wives and girlfriends were invited for the weekend, too, and the team put everybody up. Ownership by an NHL team can have benefits in the NLL.

“We get treated better than anyone in the league,’’ said Grant. “A suite for an NHL game for a bunch of Canadians is a cool thing. Those things add up over the season. We get treated very well.”

It is the only NLL team without one man serving as head coach. Pat Coyle, Chris Gill and Dan Stroup are co-coaches.

“Coyle is on the defensive end and Stroupy and Gill take care of the offense,” said Grant. “They’ve won a lot of championships. They have good chemistry. None of them need that head honcho role.”

The next Mammoth game is Saturday night in Rochester, where Grant first made his indelible mark in the NLL. It is always a kick for him to play against the Knighthawks although he does not always have a smile on his face when it is over.

“Not last year. We got punished pretty bad by them. It was a tough pill to swallow for me personally. We have to study the scouting report hard and train hard this week.”

Grant is a lacrosse coach at a school south of Denver during weekdays.

“I love it,’’ he said.

He may never leave. Everything is good. Mrs. Grant is selling real estate and their daughter is in a great school.

Only one thing is missing: an NLL championship.

“I have to help the Mammoth get to the promised land,” he said.

On the way, the ball will inevitably wind up in his stick when a game is on the line. He wanted it there when he was 19. He wants it still at 41. That fierce competitiveness has not diminished.

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