Kirkup. "I want to win for this town."


By Eoin Devereux

There’s a renewed sense of determination in the voice of Neepawa Natives Head Coach Dwayne Kirkup, as the team prepares for the new MJHL season. The 26th installment of training camp for the junior hockey franchise opened on Friday, Aug 29 with the prospect evaluations.

The weekend camp was made up of 32 rookies and recent draft picks of the 1999 born eligible players. Kirkup said there was a good amount of talent there that’s ready to step in right now and a few more with some great long term potential.

“We thought they were real solid. It was a real good rookie group.” said Kirkup. “[During the pre-season], I want to see who’s made the biggest steps and who’s ready to play junior hockey. Maybe not so much this year, but for years to come,” he added.

While this will, for the most part, be a young squad to start the season, there are still nine returnees to the club from last year as well as veteran Alex Henry, who was acquired in a trade with the O.C.N. Blizzard. Kirkup believes there is a lot of skill among this returning core.

“I think the top six forwards are very skilled, so I think you’re going to see a game with lots of speed, lots of skill.” Kirkup said. “I’m not saying the group from seven to nine is not skilled but I think the third and fourth line are going to be a combination of skill and speed but also hard on pucks and finishing checks. I think that’s what you want from a third or fourth line. An energy line.”

Kirkup is beginning his second season as Neepawa’s bench boss and notes there is a lot of room for improvement. The Natives finished the 2013/14 season last in the Sher-Wood Division with a 14-41-5 record. Combined with the uncertainty during the off-season on the future of the franchise, Kirkup acknowledges there have been a lot of obstacles to overcome over the past few months. Slowly but surely however, Kirkup says they are turning the corner.

 “For the veteran group, I think we are trying to change the culture. We didn’t have a very good year last year. We’re well aware of that. We need to change that. I thought [General Manager] Myles Cathcart has done a very good job on a couple of trades. It’s made us better. The recruiting has gone very well. And, we know we have some holes to fill. We think the forward group is very strong. We think the goaltending is very good. We’d like to tweak the defence. I think we’re looking for one or two power play guys on the back end,” said Kirkup.

 “We have a real good understanding of where we want to take this team. We know we have some work to do. We think we’ve made some good strides. We’re not satisfied with where we are now. We want to make a couple of changes to our lineup yet but I think we are going in the right direction.” Kirkup said. “Most importantly, this community deserves a winning team and I want to win for this town.”

The first pre-season game in front of the home crowd for the Neepawa Natives is set for Sunday Sept 7 against the Dauphin Kings. Additional information and pictures can be seen in the Sept 5 edition of the Neepawa Banner.