The Neepawa Natives celebrated a major milestone on Saturday, Jan. 28, as the team played their 1,500th game in the Manitoba Junior Hockey League. To commemorate the occasion, several former players and management returned to Neepawa to be a part of the opening ceremony and puck drop.
Those former players included Myles Cathcart, Travis Laing, Cory Smith, Steve Vasko, Mike Angers, Jeff Hulme, Jim Millan, Scott Elder, Neil Gillies and the team’s first general manager Lawrence Cathcart.
As well, 512 fans came out to the Yellowhead Centre to be a part of the experience and watch the Neepawa Natives take on the Selkirk Steelers. There was a bit of symmetry in the night’s opponent, as Selkirk was the first team that Neepawa ever faced in a Manitoba Junior Hockey League regular season game. Though Neepawa lost that first showdown to the Steelers, it wouldn’t be a case of history repeating itself on this night, as the Natives earned a 5-4 win.
Current Natives general manger and former player Myles Cathcart said the entire evening had a very special feel to it.
“Everyone was really happy to be a part of [the 1,500th game]. I know all the former players who were there were sharing stories about the good ties they have with the community and the team. It was a lot like the old days. A very special positive atmosphere in the arena,” noted Cathcart. “It’s interesting to come full circle myself, as I was a player and my dad [Lawrence Cathcart] was the first G.M. Now I’m the general manager and I’m seeing these young men now chase their hockey dreams, just like we all did back then. Growing as both players and people, it’s very nice.”
Cathcart said the night was more than just a player reunion, as former billet families and other supporters of the franchise over the years came back to witness history. He said a lot of people who have moved on from the team come back and realize it was something special here.
“We heard stories from players, coaches, families about how this team seemed to have a different feel to it compared to other teams, other communities. Maybe it was the fact we’re a smaller community and that’s given us a greater sense of camaraderie. It creates a connection,” stated Cathcart. “Then over the years the connection stays strong. You have billet families invited to weddings for former players, because they truly became part of the family. For example, Mary Ellen Clark has been, I believe, to every wedding that every player she billeted has had. It’s more than a hockey team.