The Neepawa Natives are waiting for the other shoe to drop as the Manitoba Junior Hockey League mulls over the postponement of the team’s last game prior to the Christmas break.
Citing a shortage of players due to injuries, illness and a suspension, the Natives dropped out of a road game a week ago against the Virden Oil Capitals without league permission, tweeting out the news less than 2 1/2 hours before the faceoff time.
“We have 23 players on our roster and seven regulars were injured, we had five guys that were sick and we had one suspended player, and all our (affiliate players) were tied up in the last weekend of the AAA Midgets prior to the Christmas break,” Natives head coach Dwayne Kirkup said.
“We had 10 hockey players and of the 10 players, not all of those guys were even 100 per cent. Most of those guys were 70, 80 per cent with the flu bug, so we honestly could not ice a hockey club with 10 players. And Hockey Manitoba states that you have to have 14 hockey players to start a game at the Junior A level and we could not scrounge up enough players to ice a hockey team.”
The situation is not completely unprecedented. A handful of contests were shelved in 2009, including three Waywayseecappo Wolverines games in a week, due to an outbreak of the flu that included cases of H1N1. The difference last week was the late time of the decision and the absence of league approval. Kirkup said the problem had been growing for a week, forcing the team to dress four affiliate players two nights earlier against the Dauphin Kings. He said the team considered the idea of postponement earlier, but spent most of the day exhausting every option before pulling the plug.
“We don’t want to be that team that was not showing up,” he said. “In Virden it was the final game before Christmas break and we all know how well that team is organized and run. They would have had a big deal and we felt bad that we had to cancel, but we can’t go there with 10 hockey players and then not be allowed to ice a team by the officials and then have the game suspended. That to me is a travesty of the game, so we thought we did the right thing and we had no other option for the safety of our players.”
While waiting for word from MJHL commissioner Kim Davis on whether there will be any punishment, the Natives went back to work on Friday, practising for tomorrow’s home game against the Swan Valley Stampeders. Despite his team’s fall into last place in the overall standings with six straight losses going into the break, Kirkup is not writing off the possibility of a second-half push for a playoff spot.
“We’re looking for a fresh start. We’re looking for some belief back in the room in the second half,” said Kirkup, whose Natives sit six points out of a playoff spot at 9-24-4. “We still feel we have a very good hockey club. We need to tighten up defensively obviously, but before the injury flu bug came along, we thought we were playing well; we just struggled to score.”
Davis could not be reached for comment.
Republished from the Brandon Sun print edition December 28, 2013