Flyers take pair of games from Natives


Neepawa goes 0-1-1 on opening weekend

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Riley Morgan of Winkler makes a stop on Kurtis Luke during the shootout on Saturday, Sept. 22.

By Eoin Devereux

Neepawa Banner & Press

While Mother Nature literally rained on the Neepawa Natives parade on Saturday, Sept. 22, Winkler goaltender Riley Morgan did the same in a figurative sense just a few hours later, leading the Flyers to a 4-3 shootout win. The 18-year-old made 48 saves, including a game-saving stop with just 23 seconds left in regulation. He also stopped all three Neepawa players he faced in the shootout. The victory was the second straight in as many nights for the Flyers, as they topped the Natives by the same 4-3 score on Friday, Sept. 21, in their home opener at the Winkler Recreation Complex. 

Weather hampers celebration

A parade and tailgate party that had been planned to help commemorate the start of the Natives 30th year in the MJHL was canceled due to the rainy and snowy conditions. That left the game itself as the primary form of entertainment for the 328 fans who braved the earlier than expected wintery weather conditions to attend the home opener. Those in attendance were treated to an action-packed 60 plus minutes of hockey. 

Flyers strike first

After a scoreless first period, where Neepawa outshot Winkler 15-10, the Flyers would be the first to light the lamp behind the net, when Connor Beebe scored just over five minutes into the second period. A short time later, Trent Halfdanson extended the lead with a goal on the power-play. That provided Winkler with a 2-0 cushion heading into the third period. Neepawa had the shot advantage 30-19 after the first 40 minutes of play.

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Natives bounce back

Neepawa pushed the pace early in the third period, searching for their first goal of the game. They’d find it quickly, as Kurtis Luke scored just 1:48 into the period. Just 1:10 later, Zach Pires added another, tying the game at 2-2. Then before the celebrations died down from the previous goal, the hometown fans had another reason to cheer as MacKenzie Belinski collected one more, giving Neepawa its first lead of the night. Winkler’s Brody Moffatt would then tie the game at the 9:50 mark, making it 3-3. For the rest of regulation, Neepawa controlled the tempo and peppered Riley Morgan with an array of shots. Morgan kept the Natives at bay, however,  including making a huge stop on Michael Boutoussov with just 29 seconds left in regulation. 

OT and shootout

The five minute overtime session could not solve anything, so it would move into a shootout. Neepawa’s three shooters were blanked by Morgan, while Winkler’s Josh Kagan claimed the game-winner with a spectacular forehand fake. Neepawa would outshoot Winkler 51-39 in the game. 

At the conclusion of the game, Neepawa Natives head coach/general manager Dustin Howden said that his team put in a tremendous effort but just ran into a goaltender who was in the zone.

“This team showed a lot of character [on the ice]. To climb back into the game as they did in the third and erase that two-goal deficit, that’s huge. Winkler did tie it up, but we had plenty of chances to get the win. [Riley Morgan] just came up big on a few chances. There were a few shots, that are definitely goals on any other night, but he just came up big. A pair of wins this weekend, obviously would be better, but there is still a lot to be happy about from this effort.” noted Howden. 

What’s next?

All Neepawa can do now is put the Winkler results behind them and focus on a pair of upcoming road games. First, they travel to Waywayseecappo to face the Wolverines (2-0-0) on Thursday, Sept. 27. Then, they will head Swan River on Saturday, Sept. 29 to play the Stampeders (2-0-0). 

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