The creation of the Neepawa Natives team name is rooted in the early 1960s, with the then-named Neepawa Intermediates hockey team.
In 1963, Ron Guinn – a member of the Neepawa Intermediates squad that won the 1936-37 Manitoba Intermediate Championship – approached Cecil Pittman – a goalie and manager for the 1963 Neepawa Intermediates – suggesting the Neepawa Intermediates should create an actual team name for the Neepawa-based hockey club.
The request led to Pittman and Allen discussing potential names for the team.
Prior to 1963, all Neepawa hockey teams had simply been named after their level of play, such as the Neepawa Intermediates or Neepawa Bantams.
“We were looking through the dictionary trying to come up with a name that would connect to Neepawa, which is a Cree name meaning ‘abundance’ or ‘plenty’,” Pittman, who is now retired to Neepawa, explained.
Neepawa’s Cree roots – coupled with Pittman’s personal fandom for the Chicago Blackhawks – inspired the pair to decide the Blackhawks’ logo would be the perfect option for Neepawa’s new look.
Pittman and Guinn were having this conversation in Guinn’s home and, shortly after the pair decided on the new logo, Bob’s wife came home.
That’s when the Neepawa Natives team name was born.
“She asked what we were up to, so we told her we were trying to come up with a new team name for the hockey team, and she suggested the ‘Natives’,” Pittman said.
Both Neepawa and Natives started with the letter ‘N’, and were seven letters long, which led Pittman and Guinn to believe it was a good fit for the team. The Natives name also fit with Neepawa’s Cree roots, as well as the new Blackhawks logo.
“We felt there could be no better name,” Pittman said. “The decision was made that evening.”
Just like that, the “Neepawa Natives” were born.
That intermediate team would do the Natives name proud, collecting seven major titles over the next 11 years.
The two years prior to changing its name, the Neepawa Intermediates club won the 1961-62 and 1962-63 Inter Ridge Hockey League (IRHL) championships.
They continued that streak in the Natives’ inaugural season, claiming the 1963-64 title in a newly formed Central Plains Hockey League.
They then won the South West Hockey League (SWHL) in 1966-67, 1970-71 and 1972-73.
Perhaps its greatest achievement, the team also claimed Provincial glory in 1966-67 when they won the Manitoba Intermediate ‘A’ title by sweeping four consecutive best-of-three series.
“We had a good team,” Pittman chuckled as he rolled through the titles. “And we had a good following, over 1,000 fans at some games.”
The intermediate team then entered the ‘Old-Timers’ league and went on to medal at several major tournaments at that level.
A few years later, in 1988, Neepawa was accepted into the MJHL and was in need of creating its own team name and identity.
Aron Berg, a lawyer at the time, wanted to respect the hockey history created by that Neepawa Intermediates team, and use the Natives name for the community’s new Junior ‘A’ Hockey club. The alumni of the intermediate team were honoured to oblige.
“We thought it was a great idea,” Pittman said. “The quote I always use is, ‘Always proud of our team and its name. Always appreciative of our loyal fan support’.”
And that, folks, is the story of how Neepawa’s Junior ‘A’ Hockey Club got its name.
The Natives name has since been gradually adopted by Neepawa Minor Hockey for its youth teams.