Playoffs slip, slidin' away for Neepawa Natives



By Eoin Devereux

Neepawa Banner & Press

The Neepawa Natives’ ice cold effort as of late, has the team sliding out of playoff contention. The latest step back for the MJHL club was a 3-1 defeat to the Swan Valley Stampeders on Tuesday, Jan. 31. 

The game, which was supposed to be a home game for the Stamps, had to be shifted to Dauphin, due to the water shortage crisis in Swan River. Because of that state of emergency, the ‘home team’ actually had to travel from further away than the visiting Natives (171 km distance vs. 141 km). Because the game took place at the Dauphin Credit Union Place, neither team could really boast any type of home advantage. Of course, the sparse number of fans, estimated at barely 100, that were then to witness the showdown likely didn’t help in creating a big game atmosphere. Despite the circumstances dealt to them, Swan Valley still proved to be the more resilient of the two squads, battling through the adversity and coming away with the win. 

As for the actually action on the ice itself, Neepawa’s Jesse Gibbons would open up the scoring, with a power-play goal just 6:29 into the first. Austin Friesen and Brett Namaka assisted on the effort. Just a few minutes later, Quintin Sudom replied for the Stampeders, with a power-play marker of his own, making it a 1-1 game.

There would be no scoring in the second period and for most of the third, as the two teams played a very tight game, not wishing to make any type of momentum changing error. A power-play opportunity for the Natives with just a few minutes remaining in regulation appeared to give them a prime opportunity to secure the regulation win. It would be Swan Valley, however, who took advantage by scoring a short-handed goal late. Shane Roulette was credited with that one, his 13th of the year. The 20-year-old from Winnipeg would followed that up quickly with his 14th of the season, on an empty netter.

Swan Valley goaltender Ethan Peterson earned the win, making 22 of 23 saves, while Natives netminder Spencer Eschyschyn had a much busier night, making 42 saves. 

Natives head coach Dustin Howden credited Swan Valley for putting in an aggressive effort and throwing everything they could at Eschyschyn. He added that the Stamps played the type of late season desperation game that can play off, when you add hard work to the equation.

As for the near future, Neepawa (20 wins, 24 loses 3 OT/SO losses. 43 points), now find themselves out of the playoffs, sitting in ninth, due to being on the wrong end of several tiebreakers with the Stampeders (19-20-5. 43 points).  Howden said the team will have to pick up their level of intensity to close out the year.

“Last year, we were able to go on a pretty incredible run there, right at the end. If you go back to last year, as well; Our run started after we threw away points against Swan, so I’m going that we learned from out mistakes. We were fortunately to get in [to the playoffs] the way we did last year. I’d like to see the team learn from last year’s events. That means not losing to Swan on Saturday, [Feb. 3]. That means taking advantage of the opportunities we have in front of us. That means winning. It’s getting down to the desperate times and we need to start playing desperate. With 13 games left in the season, I think it’s fair to say we need to win half of them.”

The Natives first opportunity at redemption begins on Friday, Feb. 2, with a game in OCN versus the Blizzard. The next night, Neepawa will, as of the time of this writing, be playing in Swan River, once agains taking on the Swan Valley Stampeders.