Despite an exceptional effort in the Yellowhead Centre, the Neepawa Natives regular season home opener was tarnished by a 3-1 defeat to the Winkler Flyers. The game was held on Friday, Sept. 23 and saw Connor Slipp make 33 saves for the Flyers to help get their season off to a positive start. Forward Scott Gall contributed with a pair of goals for Winkler, including an empty netter to seal the victory. Jeff Michiels secured the other goal for the visitors, while Ashton Anderson tallied the lone marker for the Natives.
Though Neepawa only scored a single goal, the team had multiple opportunities to secure more, as they swarmed the Winkler goal consistently throughout the game. On three separate chances, a Natives’ player had their shot ricochet off the goal post. On top of that, Slipp would on multiple occasions, steal what would normally be a surefire goal away to keep the score in Winkler’s favour. Neepawa head coach Dustin Howden said the team effort was very good, but they simply did not get the bounces.
“There were opportunities on both sides. We had a few quality chances that we did not score on. Perhaps it was just a case of guys gripping the stick a little too tight, because of nerves or [because it was the] opening game of the season. That type of thing. But we did generate chances so that’s a positive,” noted Howden.
An opportunity to tie the game arrived late in the third period, as the Natives were awarded a four minute power-play. Howden said that was a golden opportunity to get back in the game, but the timing on the power-play was just a bit off. Gall’s empty net goal with just nine seconds left in the game would make the final 3-1 for Winkler.
Rematch in Winkler
These two teams would face one another once again the following night, but this time it would be at the Winkler Recreation Complex for the Flyers regular season home opener. In that showdown, Winkler scored four times in the second period to secure a 6-4 win over Neepawa. As he had the previous night, Scott Gall scored a pair of goals for the Flyers to ensure Winkler began the season with back to back wins.
The Flyers opened the scoring with just over six minutes left in the first period, as Will Blake and Braden Billaney assisted on a Dionne Demke goal. The deficit could have been much worse as Winkler outshot the Natives 14-4 in the first 20 minutes.
In the second period, Winkler doubled its lead early, when Scott Gall scored his third of the year, just over a minute into the period. A little less than six minutes later, Gall notched his second of the game and fourth of the season to make it 3-0. Nathan Hillis replied with a power-play marker before the halfway point of the second to cut the lead to 3-1. Winkler got that one back and added another before the end of the period to make it a 5-1 score after 40 minutes of play.
Neepawa was able to find its offensive touch in the final 20 minutes, as Justin Metcalf, Ashton Anderson and Jordan Martin scored for the Natives. It would simply be a case of not enough time to make up the deficit, as Winkler notched one more in the final frame to make the final score 6-4.
Winnipeg defeats Neepawa
For the second straight game, a strong final period push was not enough for the Neepawa Natives to overcome some mid-game struggles. Three goals in the third was simply too little, too late for Neepawa on Wednesday, Sept. 28, as the club fell to the Winnipeg Blues 8-5.
The Blues accumulated seven goals early (four in the first period – three in the second) and were able to hold on for the victory. A similar story played out in Neepawa’s previous game in Winkler, as the Flyer solidified a comfortable lead early, before the Natives roared back with three goals in the final 20 minutes of a 6-4 defeat.
Winnipeg forward Joel MacGillivray opened the scoring early in the game for the home side, however Neepawa bounced back with a pair of power-play goals from Ashton Anderson and Nolan Richards respectively. But before the end of the first period, the Blues notched three goals of their own to secure a 4-2 score after 20 minutes.
The second period did not go as the visitors had hoped, as Neepawa found itself outshot (22-4) and outscored (3-0), by an aggressive Winnipeg roster. The Natives bounced back in the final period however, as Justin Metcalf notched a pair and Nathan Hillis added a single.
The final stats would see a pair of Blues get hat tricks, as Dexter Kuczek ended the evening with a total of five points (3 goals – 2 assists), while Dallas Tulik was close behind with four points (3-1). Adam Derochie earned the victory between the pipes for Winnipeg with 23 saves, while Tyler Gutenberg and Jeremy Link faced a combined 49 shots in the Neepawa net, stopping 41.
The Natives will have to put this loss behind them quickly as they return to the ice on Friday, Sept. 30, when the Selkirk Steelers visit the Yellowhead Centre (7:30 pm start time)