'Substantial amount of donations' help keep Natives alive; GM happy to have Kirkup back in fold


By: Lanny Stewart


The Neepawa Natives will be returning for a 26th season in the Manitoba Junior Hockey League thanks in large part to a substantial amount of donations from the community, says general manager Myles Cathcart. 

The community-owned club announced on Thursday night it had raised enough funds to operate for at least another year in the MJHL. The junior 'A' team held a community meeting earlier this month in an effort to raise awareness regarding its financial situation, which had the club operating on a very high line of credit.

Cathcart didn't reveal financial numbers, but did say since the April 8 meeting, the club is in much better shape moving forward and is optimistic of the club's long-term future. 

"Donations have been coming in from a variety of people and that's been good," he said. "It's kind of surpassed my expectations and I think it's going to even get better. 

"I would be shocked if it [club] didn't [stay long-term]," he continued. "There's some new blood on the executive and there's some new ideas and different ways of raising money. I'll put it this way, I don't think we'd want to do all this work for just one more year. The goal is to keep it here long-term."

The organization currently has several fundraising ideas in the works, including a charity dinner involving the ever-increasing Filipino population in the area. Cathcart says several members of the Filipino community have become fans of the team and were regular attendees of Natives games this past season.

"We've had a contingent of the Filipino population that have jumped up and helped out," he said. "They love hockey and they want to spread the word about the game to the rest of the community.

"We want them to be coming to the rink and we want them to be part of it," he continued.

A fundraising option that has long been considered has been a crop project, which would generate a significant amount of revenue. Although the project – which would see the organization acquire farmland in or around the Neepawa area and have volunteers plant and look after the crops during the summer, with proceeds from the harvest going to the Natives – has yet to become a reality, Cathcart believes it could be happening in the not-too-distant future.

"We were a little bit under the gun and obviously finding land is the difficult part of it," he said. "We don't have the land right now, but with that being said, there's people who want it and we're still working at it. I would say next year for sure, we'll have one."

Cathcart says he's not surprised by the amount of support the club has received recently, noting that when there's a job to be done in the community, people always seem to step up. 

"The volunteers are the people who have jumped up to help – it's been amazing. It's encouraging after all the work and all the time you've put into it and you realize the people appreciate it and appreciate the team and they want it to stay."

The Natives also announced that head coach Dwayne Kirkup will be returning to the team next season. The club finalized a one-year extension with the veteran MJHL coach on Thursday night. 

"There was never a doubt in anyone's mind that we wanted him back," said Cathcart. "He had to make sure that things are going forward with the team, because if it wasn't, then he had to have options. 

"We're excited about it," he continued. "He's professional. He's a players coach. He's just an all-around good community member and a good community type of leader."

There were rumours around league circles and in the community that Kirkup was leaning towards retirement from coaching in the MJHL, but in the end, he ended up re-upping with the club for at least another season.

"Guys don't stick around forever in the game. I know he's not going to coach forever," said Cathcart. "Whether it's a one-year, a two-year, or a three-year [contract], it's not a real big deal for us. If he wants to come back the year after, he'll come back." 

Kirkup led the Natives to a 14-41-5 record in his first year behind the bench in Neepawa this past season. Prior to joining the Natives, he spent several seasons as coach of the Swan Valley Stampeders, where he compiled a 127-94-24 record with the team. 

Kirkup was named the MJHL coach of the year during the 2009-2010 season.

In photo: Dwayne Kirkup

File photo