The start of 2016 has seen the Neepawa Natives dramatically improve their play on the ice. Unfortunately, that upgraded effort has not turned into points for the club in the Manitoba Junior Hockey League (MJHL) standings.
Neepawa travelled to Swan River on Friday, Jan. 8, to face the Swan Valley Stampeders. For 60 minutes, the Natives kept pace with the home side, but ended the night on the wrong end of a 4-3 decision. This game would be the first between the pipes for new Neepawa goaltender Tyler Gutenberg. The 19-year-old from Brandon most recently played with the Estevan Bruins of the SJHL and stepped into the starting role due to a recent lower body injury to Jeremy Link. In his debut with the team, Gutenberg made 32 saves and had a solid effort.
As for the players in front of him, they continued to show a renewed focus in being more aggressive in the opposition’s zone, while also playing a more structured defensive game. That attention to detail has resulted in a much more competitive product on the ice.
As for the results on the score sheet, Tarek Paranica took full advantage of the opportunities presented to him and that paid off in the form of two goals on the evening. Brayden Atkinson also registered a goal and an assist in the game. Shots on goal for the night were 36-32 for Swan Valley.
Neepawa would again hit the road for their next action on Tuesday, Jan. 12, when they met up with the Winnipeg Blues. Once again, Neepawa put in a full 60 minute effort, but was not rewarded for that hard work, as they fell to Winnipeg 4-3.
The Natives jumped out to an early advantage, scoring a pair in the first period. Reigan Buchanan earned his eighth goal of the season on a power-play at 9:59, while John McCammon quickly followed that up with his seventh point of the year, to make it 2-0.
Winnipeg started the second period strong and was able to tie things up quickly. Kevin Jakisch scored 2:59 into the middle frame and Taeron Lewis added another for the Blues 92 seconds later to tie the game at 2-2. Neepawa shrugged off that comeback effort and replied with one of their own 22 second later. Jordan Martin did the honours at 4:54, for his fifth goal and 13th point of the season. Both team traded opportunities for the remainder of the second. It wasn’t until there was just 1:46 left in the period that there would be another goal. That tally was picked up by Winnipeg’s Liam Kroeker, to make it 3-3 entering the third period.
There would be only a single goal in the final 20 minutes of the game and it was Winnipeg who would score it. Taeron Lewis notched his second of the game, on a power-play at the 7:21 mark. Neepawa pressed for the equalizer but couldn’t find the back of the net before the end of regulation.
These close defeats have dropped Neepawa’s record to 8-31-0 on the season. The Natives returns home for a pair of games. The first is on Friday, Jan. 15 against the league leading Portage Terriers. Then on Sunday, Jan. 17, the Natives return to the ice to meet the Selkirk Steelers.