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Natives inch closer to playoff spot

A three goal effort from Reigan Buchanan, coupled with a four point night from Nolan Richards (two goals – two assists), helped to lift the Neepawa Natives to their fifth win in their last six games (5-0-1). Their latest triumph was a 5-3 victory over the Waywayseecappo Wolverines on Wednesday, Feb. 22. That combined with Swan Valley’s loss to Wayway the previous night, has lifted Neepawa to within a single point of the Stampeders in the standings for the final MJHL playoff spot.

Heading into the Wednesday night showdown Neepawa was riding a wave of momentum, but couldn’t overlook a resilient Wolverines squad who had won their previous two games. The Natives jumped out quickly as Reigan Buchanan scored just 1:23 into the first period, off a John McCammon pass. That would be the only goal of the opening frame for either side.

In the second, both teams started strong, creating several early scoring chances. It would be Wayway, however, who was able to keep that effort going for a longer stretch of time. That payed off for them, as they tallied a pair of goal at the mid-point of the period. This sudden deficit seemed to revive Neepawa, as they pushed back with a pair of goals of their own. First, Nolan Richards scored with just under six minutes left in the second. Shortly after that, Buchanan secured his second goal of the night, this one on a power-play. That provided Neepawa with the one goal advantage heading into the third. 

In the final 20 minutes of regulation, the Wolverines drew first blood, with a goal at the 1:09 mark. Fortunately, Buchanan would quickly put Neepawa back into the lead with his third goal of the night and 16th of the season. Waywayseecappo continued to push back for the remainder of the game, but couldn’t find a way to get another one past goaltender Tyler Gutenberg (11-16 -0, .906 save percentage). With just 1:09 left in the game, Richards scored an empty netter to secure the two points for Neepawa. The victory improved the Natives’ regular season record to 17-31-6, good enough for 40 points.

After the game, team captain Reigan Buchanan said the entire team is feeling very good about what’s happening out there on the ice right now.

“The mood in the dressing room is that being just a point back of Swan [Valley], our playoff future is in our own hands.  That’s all any team can ask for at this point of the season. We’re not taking any of this for granted though. We know that there’s still work to do,” stressed Buchanan.

Nolan Richards, whose four point night pushed him to 28 on the season, (16G – 12A) echoed Buchanan’s sentiments, and added that everyone is elevating their game when it’s most needed.

“As a team, we’ve all started to play better. Everyone is pitching in here and supportive of one another,” Richards said. “Right now, we’re having fun coming to the rink. Winning is fun, so everyone is really positive right now and just looking forward to the next game and pushing towards the playoffs.”

The next challenge for the Natives is a back to back set of games against the Portage Terriers. The first game will be on Friday, Feb. 24 at the Yellowhead Centre. Start time is set for 7:30 p.m. The next night, Neepawa will travel down the Yellowhead Highway to Portage la Prairie for a game at the PCU Centre.