It was a full-house at the Niverville Hertiage Centre Saturday night, as the Nighthawks organization celebrated year-two of the MJHL team in town.

The evening began with a meet-and-greet cocktail hour, followed by a delicious meal and dessert, player introductions with co-emcee's Kevin Pauls, Nighthawks Director of Broadcast Operations and comedian Matt Falk.

Nighthawks banquet emcee's Kevin Pauls and Matt FalkNighthawks banquet emcee's Kevin Pauls (left) and Matt Falk (right).

The room was filled with Nighthawks supporters, business owners from inside and outside the community, to billets to hockey fans.

Also in attendance, former NHL Winnipeg Jet, Ray Neufeld, who spoke to the guests and Nighthawks players during a question-and-answer session, sharing his hockey story.

Ray Dowse, Vice President of the Nighthawks organizationRay Dowse, Vice President of the Nighthawks organization

Ray Dowse, Vice President of the Nighthawks organization spoke highly of the team, “We have a solid foundation, when you look at the Nighthawk roster. We have players from across Canada and the United States, and I'm certain that before we had the Nighthawks, lots of these guys and their families had no idea where Niverville was, let alone had any reason to visit here, and now it's their winter home. You see, this team is already building its own identity, and it's contributing to the identity of our community. Our goal is to create something together that we can be proud of.”

Dowse continued, “Our overall vision is to be a place where players want to play, where they receive support, development, opportunity to succeed and further their playing careers, and when they reflect on their time in Niverville, we want it to be a positive stepping-stone in their hockey career and their life path.”

Dowse reminded the guests that the Nighthawks is backed by a collaboration of 60 people, businesses, farmers, that came together with a membership contribution. “This is our founder group. We also have donors who contribute towards improvements in the arena through legacy memberships and infrastructure donations. Each of these groups are critical to our team. We are extremely grateful for them.”

Dowse adds that funds raised Saturday night would go to finish paying off “The Nest”, the balcony mezzanine being completed, on the east side of the arena ice. He says the two-story structure will cost about $530,000 with a small amount left to be paid off.

Besides the completion of “The Nest” it was noted that the Nighthawks organization is also hoping to add a training facility and more dressing rooms. The board is also looking to launch a crop campaign in hopes of engaging the many farmers in the region.

Nighthawks head coach and GM, Kelvin CechNighthawks head coach and GM, Kelvin Cech addressing the guests and his team.

Kelvin Cech, Head Coach and GM of the Nighthawks praised the players for their dedication and drive. “I mean, the guys are so passionate, and that's all them. That's the room, and that's each other. You know, holding themselves accountable.”

He continued, “But honestly, it's, you know, you score a goal or there's a fighter, there's a hit or whatever it is, the crowd is always into it and that is the biggest, right? You know the goal is to leave this in a better place when we found it, and in 20 years when we're all gone, we know that it's going to be positive and in a better place. So, thank you so much to our community.”

Cech also thanked the board members and all the volunteers for putting in the time to make the season great. Then addressing his team, the coach said, “You know, as much as this is a night to come out here and support fantastic endeavor that is the Niverville Nighthawks, I think it's a great opportunity for the players to kind of look out in the crowd. to see what it takes to do this. So, guys, look at the support you have behind you. You know the season is coming to a close and the playoffs are about to start, and if you ever need to reaffirmation of what it is to be a Nighthawk and what it means to be a community, just take a look around this room and see that first-hand.”

Kevin Pauls interviews Ray Neufeld, former NHL'er and Winnipeg Jet.Kevin Pauls interviews Ray Neufeld, former NHL'er and Winnipeg Jet.

Closing the evening, Ray Neufeld came to the stage and was interviewed by Kevin Pauls.

The following are some of Neufeld’s words of wisdom from their conversation.

“You know, I think it's our responsibility as past players, to always want to give back, and go the extra mile for those kids. Somebody did it for me. Someone had an impact on my life when I was a young guy, and it meant the world to me as a player.”

About self-confidence:

“I have my story too, and when I played hockey, not everybody said great things to me or, you know, I've had a few people say, some pretty nasty things to me, but overall, I didn't dwell on that. I always tell young people, don't let the negative circumstances define your life. You know, get around it, work around it, you know, figure it out a way around that.”

To the players:

“For the people that are in this room. Play hard every night, don't make excuses, right? I think this community has done a fantastic job. There's nothing I would add here. I mean the support that you have, the encouragement you have, the businesses, the people that can make a difference seem to all want to roll up their sleeves and make a difference, so, that’s a special thing to have, so cherish it. Keep working, you haven't arrived, you just gotta keep working. That's one thing I've learned in life is, we may not be perfect people, or we may not be able to play a perfect game, but what we can do is we can give a perfect effort, and that's one thing you can choose to do is give a perfect effort every day.”

“Manitoba Junior League is a great league. All the stuff that your coach Kevin can teach you, and your assistant coaches, and the people you surround yourself with every day, you know, it's about being good people. It's about learning those things, desire, commitment, work ethic, you know, attitude, all those things, because if hockey one day wasn't there for you, what are you going to do with the rest of your life? So, people who are looking for good people that have work ethic and desire and commitment to hire. So, take the things you learn in the hockey arena and apply them to your life, and I think you're going to do very well in life.”