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This article was published 14/6/2018 (1147 days ago), so information in it may no longer be current.
The Neepawa Natives have become the third team in the Manitoba Junior Hockey League to adopt fees for its players, a move they’ll make without their longtime general manager.
In the wake of losses averaging $18,000 per year for the past decade, the Natives will charge a travel fee of $267 per month per player as they rent a new bus to replace an older one they owned that was becoming increasingly costly to maintain.
Team president Ken Waddell said the club isn’t adopting a pay-to-play model, which is prevalent in some junior hockey leagues.
"We’re purposely calling it a travel fee because there are problems with pay to play," he said. "It has a bad connotation to it, and if a player is paying to play and they don’t get equal ice time, then you have an issue. We discussed the same thing with a billet fee, if someone isn’t getting as good of Corn Flakes as the next guy …
"Everybody uses the bus, and everybody wants a safe bus and clean bus and a warm bus when it’s cool. We weren’t able to provide that anymore. It was safe, but it was becoming very expensive to keep it on the road."
The fee also covers road meals and motel accommodations if needed. The Selkirk Steelers and Winnipeg Blues also charge fees, Waddell said.
Waddell said the team has reached out to parents and players to explain the rationale, and most were accepting of the change.
He admitted the board does worry it may make recruiting more difficult when just three squads in the 11-team league have player fees.
"It’s a concern," Waddell admitted. "We’ve had the whole range of response from ‘Yes, we’ll come, we don’t how you kept from doing it this long’ to ‘Yeah, we’ll come. It’s going to be stretch and we’re not sure we can come because we really want to be there because Neepawa is such a great place to play and live’ to some who said ‘No, we’re not interested, we’re moving on.’ We’ve talked to as many of the parents as we could and to all the players to explain why we’re doing it."
The Natives hope to do a further presentation when they have their summer camp in Brandon on July 9. Their total annual budget is about $400,000 per year.
The team also announced on Friday that Myles Cathcart has resigned as GM, and that the squad would begin a search for someone to take his place.
"He’s worked with the team right from the get-go," Waddell said. "He’s driven the bus, literally, and has done everything. He’s worked hard and put his heart and soul into the team. He’s done more different jobs: There may be nobody on the team who’s done more."
The club will look internally first before expanding their hunt, Waddell said, noting the team is on a limited budget.
Waddell said Cathcart spoke out against the move to player fees, and Cathcart confirmed it was the reason he was moving on.
"It’s just my philosophical view that junior hockey should be different than AAA (midget)," Cathcart said. "I’m not mad, I just decided that it would be a good time for somebody to put their stamp on whatever they wanted to do. I’m not leaving on bad terms, I just didn’t want to do it."
In his seven years as general manager, Cathcart was able to move the team forward, making the playoffs in the 2016-17 season and pushing the regular season champion Steinbach Pistons to six games. They missed the 2018 post-season after finishing ninth in the league with a record of 25-31-4, nine points behind the Swan Valley Stampeders.
Cathcart, who teaches full-time at Neepawa Collegiate, said he’ll miss a lot about the Natives job.
"I’m going to have a little time on my hands," he said. "I’m going to miss the players and the staff and being part of the team. The camaraderie and those types of things are the one of the best parts of the job."
Cathcart handled every role from coach to GM to hockey operations during his tenure with the team, giving him strong insight into every facet of the operation.
"It was fun going to the rink and recruiting players and families and getting them to come here," he said. "I’ll miss the people."
The Natives open their season in Winkler against the Flyers on Sept. 21, and then host Winkler a night later at the Yellowhead Centre in their home opener.
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