The Neepawa Natives played a pair of games over the weekend against the OCN Blizzard, with mixed results. Neepawa lost to OCN on Saturday, Nov. 19, by the score of 3-1, but bounced back in impressive fashion the following night with a 4-2 victory.
The Saturday night showdown at the Yellowhead Centre featured a Natives team hoping to take advantage of an opponent which had played the previous night in Steinbach (a 3-0 win over the Pistons). Unfortunately, it was OCN who were able to pick up the win and a pair of points in the MJHL standings. Shane Roulette topped the stat sheet for the evening with a pair of goals. George King registered the other goal for the Blizzard. Justin Metcalf scored the lone goal for Neepawa in the loss.
After the game, Neepawa head coach Dustin Howden told the NACTV post game show that the team simply did not come out with the level of energy that was needed to compete with a top level team like OCN. He stressed that the players had to come out with a much stronger start to their game, if they hoped to win on Sunday night.
For the next night’s contest, it appeared as though the players took that message to heart, as Neepawa was much more focused and aggressive. That paid off quickly, as Brad Marshall scored on a power-play opportunity at 9:40 of the first. That was Marshall’s sixth goal of the season.
In the second, Neepawa followed up with three goals. Justin Metcalf started at 4:44 and was quickly followed by Reigan Buchanan to give the home side a 3-0 cushion. Anthony Keeper replied at the mid point of the period on a power-play to give OCN a temporary spark. Neepawa was not deterred, however, answering back with one on the man advantage themselves with 3:05 left in the middle frame. That ensured that Neepawa headed into the final 20 minutes of regulation with a 4-1 lead.
Shane Roulette scored the second goal of the night for OCN early in the third, but that would be the final time the lamp was lit for either side, as the Natives secured the 4-2 win. Evan Robert picked up the victory between the pipes for Neepawa, by stopping 39 of the 41 shots he faced. After the game, Natives assistant coach Ryan Menei said that while the team struggled a bit on Saturday, the players showed a lot of character by putting it behind them and playing a much more focused game on Sunday.
“We played decent [on Saturday, Nov. 19.], but let one slip out of our hands. That being said, [the players] knew this was an important game. One that we needed, both in terms of points in the standings and just creating some confidence out on the ice and in the dressing room,” stated Menei. “We came out early, pushed the pace and took advantage of the opportunities that were out there. OCN is the type of team that plays a smart game. They won’t give you many chances, so you have to create your own and that’s what we did out [on the ice] tonight.”
Menei added that the team is currently short handed on the blue line, with only five healthy defensemen in the lineup. He said despite that adversity, the defence were solid in the win.
The victory over OCN improved Neepawa’s regular season record to 7-16-0 (14 points). The Natives remain in ninth place in the MJHL standings, three points behind the Swan Valley Stampeders, as of Tuesday, Nov. 22. Neepawa’s next game was scheduled for Wednesday, Nov. 23 at home against the Steinbach Pistons. As for other games this week, Neepawa will host the Virden Oil Capitals on Friday, Nov. 25 and then travel to Portage la Prairie on Saturday, Nov 26, to challenge the Terriers. The start time for both those games is scheduled for 7:30 p.m.