By Derek Holtom
MJHL Web Correspondent
It’s been a rough year for the Neepawa Natives. After starting the season with two straight victories, the Natives went on to only win seven of their next 45 games. They are currently at the bottom of the standings and in danger of once again missing the playoffs.
But there are signs this team is turning things around. They are a hard team to play against, and have dropped a number of one-goal games this year. That is thanks in part to netminder Jeremy Link, the last line of defense on a young Natives team.
Bottom line – don’t take the Natives for granted.
“We never take a night off – we’re always working hard,” said Link. “It doesn’t matter who we play.”
The Winnipeg-born goalie is playing in his rookie season. After getting into one game as a 16 year old last year, Link has played in 25 games this year for the Natives. While his GAA sits at 4.81, it’s his save percentage that really stands out – .898. He’s faced 1,041 shots this year, or an average of 41 per game. That’s a lot of rubber to face, but Link takes it in stride.
“At the start of this year I was a bit nervous, being new to the league,” he said. “I do feel comfortable in every game now.
“I think I have developed because (of all the shots), but in the long run it can be tiring,” he added. “There is a certain wear and tear on the goalie, but it’s a good experience, especially with this being my first year in the league.”
Link’s statistics from his midget AAA season last year show a glimpse of what might come to pass as he and the Natives get older and develop. Playing with the Winnipeg Thrashers last year, Link had a 2.42 GAA and an impressive .926 save percentage.
Statistics, though, are not Link’s focus.
“I try not to look at the stats too much,” he said. “I’d rather be winning than have good numbers, but it’s always nice to keep your save percentage up.”
In this final month the Natives will need a great push to catch the Waywayseecappo Wolverines and get into to playoffs. But when asked whether the team was focused on next season, Link said the Natives are focused on this year until they are officially eliminated from contention.
“This year we’re still trying to get into the playoffs, and we’re not looking ahead to next year,” noted Link.