With just over 20 per cent of the Manitoba Junior Hockey League regular season complete, the Neepawa Natives appear to be finding their stride. The club picked up a pair of wins against top level competition on Tuesday, Oct. 18th and Wednesday, Oct. 19th
Neepawa’s schedule began this week with a trip to Selkirk to play the Steelers. In the opening period, Neepawa found itself dealing with a deficit early, as Selkirk’s Nathan Halvorson scored just over five minutes into regulation to give the Steelers the 1-0 lead. Liam Kroeker added to the lead just before the end of the period, with his second goal of the season. Mid-way through the second, Carter Barley notched another goal for Selkirk, giving the home side a 3-0 lead. At that point, it could have been very easy for the Neepawa bench to just say to themselves ‘It’s not our night,’ and coast the rest of the way to another defeat. The team, however, decided on another option; play the full 60 and prove they can compete with any team in the MJHL. So that’s exactly what they did and then some.
The comeback began with Nolan Richard scoring late in the second to make it 3-1 Steelers after 40 minutes.
Then in the final frame, Neepawa and Selkirk traded chances, but it was the Natives who took advantage of those opportunities. First Justin Metcalf scored his sixth of the year, in an unassisted effort at the 9:17 mark. Following that, Neepawa pressed hard for the equalizer. That hard work paid off with just 2:04 left in the game, as Nolan Richards picked up his second of the night to tie things up at 3-3.
The five minute overtime session solved nothing, so the clubs shifted their attention to the shootout. Neepawa’s players did their job, as Jordan Martin and Ashton Anderson both found the back of the net. After, stopping the first shot he faced, Neepawa goaltender Jeremy Link was able to shut down the third shooter for Selkirk and secure the come from behind win.
Neepawa head coach Dustin Howden noted that this was the type of effort he wanted to see from his team.
“We played a solid sixty minutes out there. It didn’t begin like we hoped, but that wasn’t due to a lack of effort on our part,” he noted. “What was very important as well, was that despite falling behind 3-0, the players didn’t feel like they were out of it. There was still confidence that as long as they played intelligent hockey they could make their way back into [the game]. As a coach, this is exactly the type of grit and determination you like to see from your players. [The coaching staff] is very proud of the team. This is the type of win you can build off of.”
The following night, a strong start by Neepawa at home, helped to power the team to a 3-1 win over the Virden Oil Capitals. McCreary’s Reigan Buchanan lead the charge, by opening up the scoring just 53 seconds into the game. Justin Metcalf followed that up with his seventh goal and 13th point of the season, with 6:02 remaining in the first period, to provide Neepawa with a 2-0 advantage after the first 20 minutes of play.
Early in the second period, Neepawa continued to push the pace, but couldn’t translate that effort into another goal. It wasn’t until there was just five minutes remaining in the middle frame, that forward Nolan Richards broke free of the pack and notched an unassisted marker, to make it 3-0.
For the final period, things started getting a little bit chippy, as both sides spent their fair share of time in the penalty box. One of those trips to the sin bin resulted in Virden’s lone goal of the night, with just 1:53 left in the game, putting an end to Neepawa goaltender Jeremy Link’s shoutout bid. Though Link didn’t get the shoutout, he still earned the first star of the game, with an impressive 37 save performance. Metcalf and Richards received the second and third star respectively.
Coach Howden said that the victory was the perfect example of a ‘team effort’.
“Reigan Buchanan started things off positively for us. That really energized the entire bench. They were already prepared for the game, but that early spark was like an extra boost,” stated Howden. “Our work in the defensive zone was very good. Virden had chances, but we didn’t give up many quality opportunities to them. We didn’t give away rebounds in front of the net or have giveaways in our own zone and that was a total team approach. The forwards did their part to assist in the backend. Jeremy [Link] had a great night between the pipes for us. He played the previous night in Selkirk and came up big for us on back-to-back nights. Considering this week is another hectic one for us [four games in five nights], starting it off with a pair of wins is a real positive.”
The next game for Neepawa (4-7-0) in on Friday, Oct. 21 against the Waywayseecappo Wolverines (1-9-0). The start time at the Yellowhead Centre is scheduled for 7:30 pm. The next night, Neepawa will travel to Virden to once again challenge the Oil Capitals (6-5-2). Opening face-off for that game, at Tundra Oil and Gas Place, is also set for 7:30 pm.