About 100 families from across Canada and the United States converged on the Yellowhead Arena between Mar. 25th to the 27th, for the Neepawa Natives annual spring prospects camp. For one family, that journey had some added challenges, but at the same time added significances.
15-year-old goaltending prospect Seth Ningeongan, as well as father David, mother Ann Makpah and sister Alayna, travelled a combined 1,654 kilometres from their home of Rankin Inlet, Nunavut to Winnipeg and then to Neepawa to be a part of the event.
As the family looked on, Seth tested himself against players of a similar age. David Ningeongan said his son doesn’t normally get many opportunities like that up north, as he must compete against older players.
“We don’t really have a team up north. It’s really just midget [players] and a regular hockey league. We have just enough to have two [rosters] that are whole, in our community,” said Ningeongan. “The major tournament he just recently participated in was the Avataq Cup. [That’s] senior men’s hockey, so he’s been playing in that league as well. We’ve been lucky in that way. When he was 13 years old, we had to sign a consent form to allow him to play in the senior men’s tournaments. So, for the last two years, he’s been playing in the major tournament in our region.”
As for how Seth earned his spot on the ice at the prospects camp, David said it all began in mid-February through the trading of emails between his wife Ann and the management of the Junior ‘A’ hockey club.
“My wife looked into [Seth participating in the spring camp]. It’s something we’ve always wondered about. Where he stood against players of the same age from across Canada, in the southern provinces. So, we contacted the coaching staff and management [for the Neepawa Natives]. They got back to us quickly and explained what was required. So after that, we started planning the trip down to Neepawa, to try out for this spring camp.”
Unlike many other prospects at the camp, the process of getting to Neepawa was not quite as simple, as Ningeongan acknowledged that distance would play a factor.
“As soon as we confirmed that Seth would be able to participate, we started making arrangements to fly down to Winnipeg on a 737. That’s a little less than 1,500 [kilometres]. Then we rented a minivan and drove to Neepawa. It’s the very first time we’ve ever been in this area. We had been in Brandon a few years back for a hockey tournament, but Neepawa was a bit of a change for sure.” said Ningeongan.
David added that once Seth arrived at the camp, he was more than ready to test himself against this new level of competition.
“He’s been very excited about this. Now he knows what it feels like to play against a same aged group. And now, we know that he’s able to keep up with everyone else. We weren’t sure where he stood when it came to being out there on the ice, but this weekend has shown that he’s definitely competitive out there.” said Ningeongan. “This is our first time to come down to a camp of this type, so whatever information we can gather from this experience will definitely help us to pursue it further.”
As for what the experts had to say about Seth’s game, Neepawa Natives general manager Myles Cathcart said there are a few aspects of his play between the pipes that are progressing quite nicely.
“Seth is a young player, but he’s already developing a good skill set. Positionally out on the ice, he was good on controlling angles and being square to the shooter. There are parts of his game that are still developing, but he is young and there’s time. [The Neepawa Natives coaching staff and management] gave him some advice on how to improve and provided some options to aid him in that effort. But overall, we were pleased with what we saw,” noted Cathcart.
After competing a full scrimmage, Seth Ningeongan said the challenge of the weekend has motivated him to continue improving.
“I think the past few days definitely helped me. It’s been challenging but also fun. Difficult at some points, because the amount of talented players out there is higher, but that’s really helped me though. That’s what you want to do as a player as well, challenge yourself to get better. Playing out there with guys my own age, and top players at that, has shown me that I can do and motivated me.” said Seth. “I’m just very thankful for the opportunity and intend on using the experience to keep improving.”