While it wasn’t the prettiest of wins, the Neepawa Natives are still glad to take home two points in the standings from their 4-2 victory over the Dauphin Kings. The game, played Wednesday, Feb. 15 at the Yellowhead Centre, would see Neepawa get off to a slow start, allowing several early opportunities to their opponents. Fortunately, luck was on the Natives’ side, as a seemingly harmless shot towards the Dauphin goal was lost by the goaltender and ended up in the back of the net. Riley Vautour picked up the goal on this unexpected turn of events.
A little less than 90 seconds later, an end to end effort from Ashton Anderson resulted in another goal. Anderson’s solid rush and well timed pass created a chance for line-mate Nolan Richards, who made no mistake in putting the puck past Kings’ goaltender Brandon Holtby. That provided Neepawa with a quick 2-0 lead.
Dauphin would get one back when Brett Piper put a bullet of a shot under the cross bar, to cut the lead in half. But almost immediately after that, Neepawa once again streaked down the ice on a fast break, this time lead by Justin Metcalf. Much like the Anderson effort, Metcalf slid a pass to Nolan Richards who once again knocked it into the back of the net, for his second of the night and 14th of the season. Just before the end of the first, Dauphin took advantage of a power-play opportunity, with Daniel Chartrand earning the goal. That made it 3-2 for Neepawa after the first 20 minutes of play.
In the second, both the Natives and the Kings peppered the goaltenders with shots (17 apiece). It was only another lucky break for Neepawa that ended up in the back of the net, as Reigan Buchanan was able to slip one past Holtby, while killing off a penalty. That was his 13th goal and 34th point of the season and gave the home side a two goal cushion to work with heading into the third.
In the final 20 minutes, Neepawa kept all of Dauphin’s effort under control, keeping the Kings bogged down in the neutral zone. Dauphin would control most of the play in the final few minutes, as Neepawa took a late penalty, but were unable to capitalize on their chances until there was just 23.9 seconds left on the clock. Brett Piper scored his second of the night and 5th of the season, but it was simply too little too late, as Neepawa held on to the win. Tyler Gutenberg collected the win in goal with a 40 save night, while Dauphin’s Brandon Holtby stopped 37 out of 41 shots. The Kings went 2-for-4 on the power-play, while Neepawa was 0-for-2.
Natives head coach Dustin Howden said his team locked down Dauphin’s usual offensive components and were very responsible defensively. He said over the past few games, they’ve been making things tough on their opposition by playing smart.
This latest victory, Neepawa’s third straight, improved their regular season record to 15-31-5, good enough for 35 points in the standings. Dauphin, meanwhile, fell to 15-34-6, with 36 points. The Natives have four games in hands on the Kings and two on Swan Valley (18-31-4. 40 points), who both teams are chasing for the final playoff spot. The next game for the Natives will be in Swan River, against the Swan Valley Stampeders on Friday, Feb. 17. The next home game is Wednesday, Feb. 22 versus the Waywayseecappo Wolverines. Opening face-off is set for 7:30 pm.