Neepawa Natives drop the puck on training camp


By Eoin Devereux

Neepawa Banner & Press

If the 30th edition of the Neepawa Natives fall training camp had to be summed up in just two words, the simple phrase “ample opportunity” would likely be the best fit. Heading into the annual camp, between 90 to 110 players should be reporting to the Yellowhead Centre on Wednesday, Aug. 29, looking to crack the opening game line-up. 

Natives head coach and general manager Dustin Howden said that for those players there will be a tremendous opportunity available to them to make an impact.

“There are lots of new faces coming in, which is great. Last year, we had, what you could call, a veteran team at camp. Many returning players and only a few roster spots really up for grabs. This year though, it’s different. We had five players who finished up their last year of eligibility in the MJHL. and we also have a few other [returnees] who are attending WHL camps. We will them all the best in that effort. We are a developmental league, so we like to see those guys make it to the next level. That would be great, though, at the same time, we’d love to see them back because they’d definitely be impact players for us,” stated Howden. “But having said that, we must move forward. We’ll be looking for leadership from our guys this year. It’s going to be an opportunity for them and I know they’ll rise to the occasion. In terms of the defensive depth and goaltending, we have some options with a lot of returning guys. It’s going to be interesting up front, with having graduated five forwards last year and having a few more away at [WHL] camps. That’s seven spots right there. There are definitely opportunities to be a part of this club.”

Heading into the new season, there have been many voicing concerns about the new travel fee that was implemented by the club. It was believed that it would hinder the numbers of players willing to come out to Neepawa. Howden noted that doesn’t appear to be the case.

“Numbers-wise, we’re expecting just over a hundred players participating in this years’ camp. [director of player personnel/head scout] Byron Billett and the rest of the staff have been doing an excellent job of recruiting for this camp. We have about 95 per cent retention from our summer evaluation camp, which is encouraging. Lot’s of new faces coming in,” said Howden. 

As for Howden’s new dual role of coach and general manager for this year’s camp, he noted it does take a little getting used to. He said there are several other responsibilities off the ice that must be looked after, but that, for the most part, he’s settling in just fine.

Training camp will begin on Wednesday, Aug. 29 at the Yellowhead Arena and runs until Saturday, Sept. 1. The first home pre-season game is set for Tuesday, Sept. 11 against the Winkler Flyers. The regular season meanwhile will begin on Sept. 21 in Winkler, with the home opener against the Flyers the next night at the Yellowhead Centre.