By Derek Holtom
MJHL Web Correspondent
The Neepawa Natives continue to be a feel-good story in the Manitoba Junior Hockey League. After six difficult years of missing the playoffs, the Natives got back into the playoffs last year by winning their final game of the regular season, and they have continued to carry that momentum over into this year. Entering November the Natives were a mere three points out of fourth place, and have one of the most dynamic scoring teams in the league.
The success on the ice has translated to better times off the ice. Team governor Dave Clark, currently in his third year in that role, says the turnaround can be traced to those long hours put in watching bantam hockey across Manitoba.
“For a small market team like our, we sometime struggle financially compared to other successful teams that have deeper pockets,” he said. “What we had to do was make sure our scouting staff was drafting Manitoba kids, and recruiting them to Neepawa. And I think the tail end of last year, and the start of this year, we’re starting to see the fruits of that labour.”
Clark says the community has responded to this new-look Natives team, and he hopes the momentum continues to build.
“Dating back to that last game against Swan Valley last year (who they beat to earn the final playoff spot), we’ve carried that over to this year,” said Clark. “We’ve had strong community support here over the year, even through the lean years, and it’s nice to see the faces back in the arena when the team was creating a buzz.”
Clark added the franchise has used the success of last year to build up their corporate support, and he feels they have strong people working on that for the franchise – people such as Derek Pearson, the team’s director of marketing.
He also added he is very pleased with the work of general manager Myles Cathcart, director of player personnel Byron Billett, and head coach Dustin Howden, and what they’ve brought to the franchise.
“Myles as GM, and Byron as director of player personnel – I can’t speak enough about the hard work they spent in arenas watching Manitoba kids play at the bantam level,” he said. “They’re also great at putting together NCAA packages for those players who want to go the college route.
“We’re a small city team, and for those guys who put in all those hours, it’s definitely pivotal to our success in the last 18 months.”