Weekend wins put Neepawa back in playoff chase

Photo courtesy of Martin Warner

After a disheartening 1-0 loss to the Swan Valley Stampeders on Wed, Feb. 8, it could have been very easy for the Neepawa Natives to simply play out the stretch for the remainder of the MJHL season. What the players decided to do instead was put in two incredible efforts and pick up a pair of much needed wins. First, they collected a well deserved 5-3 win over a long time nemesis, the Portage Terriers, on Friday, Feb. 10 at the Yellowhead Centre. Neepawa quickly followed that up with a 5-2 decision over the Winnipeg Blues.

In the Portage matchup, Ashton Anderson had a big night, with a pair of goals and an assist. Nolan Richards, Josh Sielsky and Justin Metcalf also scored in regulation to ensure the victory for Neepawa. Tyler Gutenberg, meanwhile, made 39 saves between the pipes to secure his eighth win of the season. The victory improved Neepawa’s overall record to 13-31-5 and inched them a little bit closer to contention for the final playoff spot.

After that game, coach Dustin Howden said seeing the players refuse to give up on the playoffs is very positive.

“These guys have pride and to see their character come through as it has recently is big,” noted Howden. “They want to win, not just for themselves, but also for the community. They know that Neepawa has opened up their arms for them. Supported them in so many ways and [the players] want to repay that. We believe we still have a chance at the playoffs and we’re not giving up on that.”

The Natives hoped to keep that momentum going on Sunday, Feb. 12, when the Winnipeg Blues (25-23-7. 55 points) came to town. In this game, Natives’ forward Justin Metcalf would be the one to lead the way on the stat sheet, with a three point night (two goals – one assist). Brad Marshall, Josh Blondeau and Nolan Richards all tallied singles for the home side to come out on top. On this night, it was Evan Robert who was steady in goal for the Natives, with a 35-save performance. This second straight victory improved Neepawa’s regular season record to 14-31-5.

Metcalf stated that the entire locker room is starting to feel they’re finding their game at just the right time.

“It’s not just one or two guys in there, who are feeling good about the results and what they’re contributing to those results. Every one of the guys is stepping up, whether it’s that big goal or pass or blocked shot. We’re all going at it and making plays and it’s easy to feed off of that and support each other,” said Metcalf.

The Natives will have an extremely busy week ahead of them, as they play three games, including two on the road. First, they’ll face the Dauphin Kings on Wed, Feb. 22 at the Yellowhead Centre. Opening face-off is scheduled for 7:30 p.m. Neepawa will then travel to Swan River for a game on Friday, Feb, 17 against the Swan Valley Stampeders. The Natives then close out the week on Sunday, Feb. 19, with a game at the MTS Iceplex in Winnipeg versus the Blues.