While most of us are still thinking about barbecues and beaches, the Neepawa Natives are looking ahead to the long bus rides and early morning practices that are part and parcel of the Manitoba Junior Hockey League season. The junior ‘A’ club is set to begin its training camp on Wednesday, Aug. 31 at the Yellowhead Centre, with between 90 to 95 players looking to secure a spot on the roster.
This will be the first training camp for Dustin Howden, as the team’s head coach, after serving as an assistant for the past two seasons. Howden said that he’s looking forward to taking on more responsibility.
“Being the main guy this year on the coaching staff, means the final decisions and at time the tough decisions, are yours and yours alone to make. Fortunately, [Natives general manager Myles Cathcart] and [Director of player personnel/head scout Byron Billett], along with the rest of the scouting staff have put together a quality group of players to assemble a team from,” noted Howden. “For the upcoming season, I think that this will be a fast, skilled group. We will move the puck well and create opportunities. On this team, I also want to focus on being sound defensively. The past few years, we’ve allowed too many shots per game. We need to be a puck possession team. That means controlling the tempo and playing smart. We have the ability to do that with the players that we have.”
Natives GM Myles Cathcart noted that while this year’s training camp will include a solid core of returning players, there are still ample opportunities for younger players.
“We have very good retention of players from last year, but when you look at the stats from last year, there is room for improvement. Everybody needs to earn their spot,” stressed Cathcart. “With the variety of players coming in to try out, I think this will be a highly competitive camp.”
For this year’s training camp, the schedule has been altered slightly, as the camp will end on Saturday instead of Sunday, as has been the norm in previous years. Cathcart said that this a positive change.
“It’s something we’ve looked at for a few years now. The Yellowhead Centre has been very accommodating in ensuring we can move it ahead a day. It’s a positive shift for several reasons. It minimizes the overlap between the camp and [The Neepawa Golf and Country Club’s Rosebowl Tournament] over the long weekend. As well, it gives the players a bit more time to get home, enjoy the rest of the long weekend with their families and get themselves prepared to come back to Neepawa and get settled in for the start of the MJHL season,” said Cathcart.
Registration for the 2016-2017 training camp will be held on Wednesday, Aug. 31, from 9:00 am to 10:00 am at the Yellowhead Centre. It’ll be quickly followed by a mandatory players’ meeting at 10:05 am. As for the on-ice sessions, those will start at 11:00 am, with the individual player schedules given out during registration. The Neepawa Natives training camp is open to the public.
As for games, the first home pre-season for Neepawa is scheduled for Wednesday, Sept. 7 against the Waywayseecappo Wolverines, while the regular season begins on Friday, Sept. 23, when the Neepawa Natives will host the Winkler Flyers.