Not so silent E - Neepawa Natives turn draft into must see TV



(L to R) Eoin Devereux of the Neepawa Banner and Cody Buhler of Portage Online served as analysts for the MJHL draft.

By Eoin Devereux

The Neepawa Banner

The problem with being the first ever to attempt something is that you could also be the first ever to fail at it. Fortunately for the Neepawa Natives, that’s a burden they won’t have to bear when it comes to the 2015 MJHL bantam draft. 

Just over four weeks ago, representatives with the club pitched an ambitious idea to the Manitoba Junior Hockey League. The plan was to broadcast all six rounds of the draft on television and online live on NACTV to a national audience, through the MTS and Bell TV cable services. This was a massive endeavour that had never been tried before by the league. 

Natives director of marketing Kaiten Critchlow said they were hoping to do something innovative to place a spotlight on both the league and themselves.

“The feeling was that broadcasting the draft live would be a great opportunity to promote [the Neepawa Natives] and the MJHL and to highlight NACTV and what they’re able to offer,” said Critchlow. “We knew it was a very ambitious project to take on in such a short time frame, but one that was worth pursuing.”

Once the concept was approved by the MJHL, Critchlow noted that the team got right to work preparing for the broadcast, because they knew there were several obstacles they would have to overcome. The first hurdle was finding a suitable venue.  One option considered was the Yellowhead Centre Hall in Neepawa. Unfortunately, it would not be available on the day of the draft because it was already booked for another event.  Another option was the conference room of the Vivian Motor Hotel, though that was quickly dismissed. The reason was that it was believed that the space was unable to accommodate the representatives from the league office, all 11 MJHL teams and the equipment and crew needed to make the live broadcast a reality.

A decision was made just over two weeks before the event, that the draft would be held at the Roxy Theatre. But that location would also prove to have its own unique problems. First being that the theatre was booked all day and night on Saturday. That would mean, representatives from the Neepawa Natives, the MJHL and NACTV would only have a couple of hours early Sunday morning to prepare all the equipment and sound for the draft.  Fortunately, the combination of Natives president Dave McIntosh, NACTV general manager Ivan Traill, as well as several volunteers from the TV station and the team worked quickly to put together the production. This group was able to prepare the lighting, sound and cameras just in time for the live telecast at 9:00 am.

As for the draft itself, the live three and a half hour telecast did run into a few minor issues, including a technical delay mid-way through the morning. For the most part however, the production went far better than many had expected. Ivan Traill of NACTV said everyone was very happy with the end result.

“We were pleased with how it went. When you do three and a half hours live, there are always minor hiccups that can occur and there were a few, but for the most part we couldn’t have asked for a better result,” said Traill. “Afterwards, we had officials from the league and the teams coming up and thanking us for what we were able to do. There were a few suggestions as well for what could be done in the future, so it sounds as though this might be something they’re interested in doing again.”

MJHL commissioner Kim Davis commended NACTV and the Neepawa Natives to turning the draft into must see TV.

“The production of the live broadcast was very good. We relied on NACTV. They were very skilled in putting on events like this,” said Davis. “Broadcasting live events, it’s something they have done before. For myself and for the league in general, we felt it went off very well,”

Davis also noted that the live broadcast is another example of the league and its teams continuing to innovate.

“The way that people consume events and news is always changing. So to be able to broadcast this draft live both on television and online is an example of how we are evolving. This type of live broadcast obviously isn’t new, but it was new to us. It was very important to embrace this new effort to get our league out there front and centre for fans. I think everyone who contributed to making this event a success should be proud of this day,” stressed Davis.

A few days after the broadcast, Critchlow noted that the team and the league have heard from several viewers, commending them on the endeavour. He added that it was satisfying to hear drafted players and their families praising the concept.

“A lot of the draftees were watching all across the province and they were very excited to see their names picked at that moment,” said Critchlow.  “I think that Neepawa set the bar very high for future drafts.”