Kirkup happy to be back with Natives


By: Lanny Stewart

Dwayne Kirkup firmly believes he can win in Neepawa with the Natives and he's looking forward to next season after inking a one-year deal to return to the Manitoba Junior Hockey League club last week.

The veteran coach says he spent a lot of time reviewing his own situation, but in the end, chose to come back to Neepawa for at least one more year.

"I'd really like to win in Neepawa," he said. "I make no bones about it. It's what I really want to do and I'm willing to stick it out and hopefully we can get it done here."

He says the tipping point was the community meeting the club held earlier this month in an effort to raise awareness regarding the team's financial issues.

"It really gave me the feeling that the passion that the town of Neepawa and surrounding area have about the Natives. It was just so evident to me how badly the community wanted to keep their team. I just wanted to return and help give them some stability to their organization and be part of their community.

"I would think that everybody is feeding off the energy after the awareness meeting because it seems as though there has been a lot of good dialogue within the community with different ideas on how to fundraise," he continued. "We have more people involved and I think that's a very positive note, not only for myself, but for the players as well."

Kirkup says during the decision making process, he had a few options to fall back on, which included retirement from coaching completely. He says after speaking with several of the veteran players eligible to return to the Natives next season, it helped him come to a decision.

"I think it's so important that I'm able to recruit the veteran players back to Neepawa. Because if you're starting over on a clean slate, year after year, it's very hard to have success. I've met with a lot of the veterans who are eligible to come back and they're excited to come back. I think that certainly helped my decision – and it made my decision a lot easier."

Kirkup understands there is a lot of work ahead this offseason, such as recruiting – and it's something he's already started.

"Recruiting began at, well, at the conclusion of the season. Because at that time, I wasn't sure of my future, but I wanted to do my part in setting up the recruiting process," he said. "I think the plan moving forward is to attend two or three showcases where we hope to recruit some players and put ourselves in a position where we can playoff hockey return to Neepawa."

Another item on the agenda during the offseason for Kirkup includes helping general manager Myles Cathcart and the rest of Natives management with the MJHL Bantam Draft, which takes place in June in Winkler.

Kirkup led the Natives to a 14-41-5 record this past season in what was his first year behind the bench with the club.