Future of Neepawa Natives in jeopardy; club to host 'Survive or Thrive' community awareness night


By: Lanny Stewart


The Natives junior 'A' hockey team remaining in Neepawa is in jeopardy and the club is in dire need of increased fan and volunteer support.

The community-owned club, which celebrated its 25th anniversary season in the Manitoba Junior Hockey League this year, is operating on a line of credit which, at this point, is at a high level with increasing expenses.

"Our losses have accumulated over the last seven years. We need to clean them up and move forward," said Natives president Dave McIntosh.

He says the majority of team board members have also been putting in way too many hours to run the club on a day-to-day basis – as well as their own cash to keep the team afloat.

"Sometimes people assume that everything is OK because no one has sounded an alarm," he said. "The club is in very real trouble."

The team says that part of the problem is that some in the community believe Gaynor Vivian remains the viable owner of the club, which is no longer the case. McIntosh says if the team fails, the community has failed.

"He [Vivian] handed the team over to the community, free and clear, back in September 2007. We want the fans to know that this is a community-owned team. If it [team] can't succeed, then the responsibility of that happening rests with us all."

Despite the trying times, McIntosh believes there is light at the end of the tunnel.

"If our sponsors, who are very good, know that we need help, they can re-assess their sponsorship," said McIntosh. "We run a very tight ship, but our expenses keep rising."

Natives general manager Myles Cathcart says everyone needs to think of the situation in terms of what the team does for the community.  

"It is a privilege to have a junior A team within our community – not a right," he said.

This past weekend during the club's annual spring camp, the team had several of the player's parents fill out a questionnaire on how much they spent on accommodation, travel expenses and meals while in Neepawa in an effort to better gauge how much the team supports the community's local businesses.

More than $20,000 was spent in Neepawa.

"The numbers are even greater than I anticipated," said Cathcart.

"We have a core group of fans that are outstanding," he continued. "We have a dedicated group of fans and many of them will travel to road games as well. We also have excellent volunteers within the community that help out at the home games.

"We just need more help with putting on games, help on committees for greater success such as fundraising groups, finance committees, booster clubs," he added. "We have a lot of ideas to potentially raise money for the club, we just need to implement the ideas, which takes volunteerism. The question is how can I help? If the message is that nobody cares about junior hockey anymore, then we all move on. But when it's too late, the team will not be back."

On Tuesday, April 8, the club will be holding a "Survive or Thrive" community awareness night at the Yellowhead Centre in Neepawa. The focus of the meeting will be how to increase sponsorship and season ticket sales. There will also be new ideas that will be discussed to help the team long term.

"We need more help on committees. We need more income. We need more ideas and solutions," concluded McIntosh.

The meeting gets underway at 7 p.m. Anyone is welcome to attend.