The post season run of the Neepawa Natives has come to an end, as they were downed by the Steinbach Pistons on Monday, Mar. 20, by the score of 3-1. The game, played at the Yellowhead Arena, was a great back and forth battle between the two clubs with the final outcome remaining uncertain until the very end.
Neepawa’s Justin Metcalf opened the scoring just 9:11 into the first period, giving the Natives the early advantage. They’d continue to press for another goal, but were held at bay by goaltender Roman Bengert.
In the second, Neepawa put a solid push on Steinbach early, but couldn’t find the back of the net. The Pistons answered back with pressure of their own, which resulted in Braden Purtill scoring the equalizer at the 15:09 mark. After the tying goal, Steinbach ended up taking a pair of consecutive penalties. Despite keeping the action in the Piston’s end of the ice, Neepawa couldn’t get the go-ahead goal they were hoping for. The Natives closed out the period by killing off a penalty of their own, ensuring they headed into the final 20 minutes of regulation tied at 1-1.
The third turned into, quite simply, one of the best periods of junior 'A' action many had seen in a long time. With the officials putting the whistle away and letting the players decide the outcome, both sides played aggressively but disciplined. There was an extended point of end to end action, which featured a near six minute stretch without a stoppage in play.
With 6:58 left in the third, Bradley Schoonbaert secured his third goal of the playoffs giving Steinbach their first lead of the night. Late in the period, Neepawa pulled goaltender Tyler Gutenberg for the extra attacker, but couldn’t find the opportunity they had hoped for. Purtill scored his second of the night with just 28 seconds remaining to ensure the game and series victory for the top ranked Pistons.
After the game, Steinbach coach/GM Paul Dyck gave credit to Neepawa for playing an incredible series.
“We played [the Natives] here near the end of the regular season, we lost 3-1 and that was tough game for us. it was probably one of the toughest games we played in our final 10-12 games. We knew they were playing extremely well. Neepawa was the hottest team going into the playoffs, playing with a lot of confidence. As the series wore on, it became very evident that the players had bought in to what the coaching staff was telling them. They gave us everything we could handle,” noted Dyck.
Natives head coach Dustin Howden said though the final result is disappointing for the players, it’s still something they should be proud of.
“I can’t say enough positives about the guys in [the dressing room]. A lot of character guys. They worked hard and represented this team and this community in a first class manner. We felt that this year was a step in the right direction for this team. It’s something that should provide confidence for the returning players for next season,” noted Howden. “Kudos to Steinbach, they’re the top team in the MJHL for a reason. They played a great series.”
Neepawa Natives team president Ken Waddell expressed respect for the team's efforts throughout the season. He also gave credit to players and staff, as well as a thank you to the volunteers and fans.