The junior hockey season is a long one, but for most teams in the Manitoba Junior Hockey League the longer you’re playing, the better the outcome.
Consider this… The Neepawa Natives played their last regular season games on March 2nd, while the eventual Turnbull Cup Champion Steinbach Pistons played their final game on May 17th in a 4-1 loss to the eventual National Champion Chilliwack Chiefs. That is a span of 74 days!
While the Pistons were on the road to the RBC Cup, the Natives were hard at work preparing for the off-season and the upcoming Bantam Draft on June 3rd...
“Our Head Scout Byron Billet and his scouting staff have been really busy the past few months with watching the various Bantam Provincials that were held in Killarney & across the province. As well as attending Manitoba POE camps,” said Neepawa Head Coach Dustin Howden. “Byron and his staff put a lot of work into the draft with identifying & contacting players as it is our programs bread and butter. Being a small market team, we really invest heavily in Manitoba born players.”
The Natives took a step backward in 2017/18 after a promising season that included their first trip to the playoffs in nearly a decade, taking the Steinbach Pistons to six games in the MJHL’s first round. Despite a four win and six-point improvement from the previous year, the Natives failed to make the playoffs, something that doesn’t sit well with their bench boss.
“We were not able to make the playoffs and fell short of the expectations we had for ourselves. With the returning players we had from the late playoff run the year before and the new recruits, we felt we had a good group to continue to climb the standings board and attempt to go deeper in the playoffs,” said Howden. “A real positive from last year was our rookies. They were able to transition into the Jr game really well and put up good numbers with five rookies finishing in the top 20 in scoring. We’re excited to see these players continue to develop this season and become leaders within our room.”
With the 2017/18 season in the rearview mirror, the Natives are looking to get back into the playoffs when the snow flies this fall in downtown Neepawa.
Our Goals are to continue the upward trend we’ve been showing the past few seasons. We’d love to get above the .500 mark and playoffs is a must,” said Howden. “We’ve just added Robby Moar to our coaching staff who is our former captain from 2013/2014 season. He just finished Minot State University with a Bachelor of Science in Marketing. He’s going to be a great addition to the staff as he had a good knowledge of the game, will relate well to the players and is very passionate about the Neepawa Natives.”