The early portion of the Manitoba Junior Hockey League schedule has not been all that kind to the Neepawa Natives, with a pair of four game in five night stretches. Fortunately for the club, the players appear to be thriving under these less than perfect conditions. The latest example of this was winning three of four games last week.
It all began on Tuesday, Oct. 18, with a dramatic come from behind win in Selkirk. That victory helped to build the team’s confidence, powering them to a 3-1 win over the Virden Oil Capitals on Wednesday, Oct. 19. Neepawa head coach Dustin Howden said that the victory was the perfect example of a ‘team effort’.
The next game for Neepawa was on Friday, Oct. 21 against the Waywayseecappo Wolverines. Perhaps the rigours of the previous games were starting to catch up with the players, as they had a tough time gaining any separation from their opposition. Despite having what could be deemed a rough night, Neepawa still was able to leave the rink with a 4-3 win.
Brad Marshall opened up the evening with a power-play goal early in the first period. The team had several other opportunities in the first 20 minutes, but couldn’t find the back of the net a second time.
In the second, both teams scored a pair, but it seemed as though the Wolverines had an extra step on Neepawa, as they generated some quality opportunities against goaltender Jeremy Link. The 18-year-old Winnipeg product was able to play strong through the adversity however, keeping Neepawa’s lead at one heading into the third period.
In the final frame, Wayway swarmed the Neepawa end of the ice, searching for that equalizer. It wouldn’t be until the final minute of the game, when either team would add another goal to the score sheet, when with 20 seconds left in the game, Neepawa notched an empty netter. Before that goal could even be announced, however, Waywayseecappo jumped in and scored on a breakaway with one-second left in regulation. That was not enough however, as Neepawa closed out the game with the 4-3 decision. Reagan Buchanan scored twice and added an assist in the win, while Nathan Hillis secured the other goal.
The very next night, the club travelled to Virden to once again face the Oil Capitals. On this night, the efforts of the previous nights finally caught up with Neepawa, as it was Virden who would come out on top, by a 3-1 margin. Justin Metcalf notched the lone goal for the visitors on the evening. Despite the defeat, Neepawa still came away from the week with six of possible eight points in the standings and solidified their position in eighth place in the MJHL standings.
Neepawa head coach Dustin Howden said there were a lot of positives to take away from these most recent games.
“Going into the week, I told the guys that it was important to just focus on the task in front of them. It’s not as daunting a task when you take it a bit at a time. It was a tough schedule, but to come out of it with three wins is a real positive,” Howden noted. “ It’s the second time we’ve had this type of week. It’s good to get those out of the way early in the season. The players came through it well.”
The schedule once again challenges Neepawa’s resolve, as the team will drive 524 kilometres north to the Pas, for a game against the OCN Blizzard on Friday, Oct. 28. The following night, the club will have to hit the road again, heading due south for 230 kilometres to Swan River to take on the Swan Valley Stampeders, Saturday, Oct. 29.