After a summer of remodeling the Neepawa Natives have built themselves to become the team the community has asked for.
On the ice, the team has recruited locally, traded for Westman players, built for a competitive squad, and focussed on recruiting character players.
In the office, the Natives organization has lowered its ticket prices and added Neepawa's Cam Tibbett as an assistant coach to head coach Ken Brooks.
And, looking back to last season's controversial incident, the squad has decided rather than trying to erase the black mark in its organization's history it will literally 'wear it on its sleeves' by adding an anti-bullying patch to its players' jerseys and supporting anti-bullying presentations in Neepawa and area schools.
Now, after a hectic summer rebuilding itself, the organization is waiting for the community to respond.
"We've changed the whole dynamics of our team because that's what our community wanted," Tibbett said during a Q&A session with himself, general manager Myles Cathcart and Dave McIntosh representing the Natives. "People tend to want to hold grudges....there's really no need to. We have listened to what the community said... and we're starting with a new everything this year."
At this point in time, a positive community reaction isn't simply a wish for the Natives, it's a necessity.
Right now the organization is sitting with a debt of around $75,000 with team supporters having their own names attached to that debt.
While the debt number seems daunting, the Natives have pulled the purse strings as tight as possible this year and aren't hitting the panic button yet.
Season ticket prices have been dropped from $235 to $195 - the lowest gate price in the league - to make attending games even more affordable.
If the Natives hit the target of selling 195 season tickets to start the year and continue to get sponsorship support, the organization feels it will already be heading in the right direction.
The team has also changed the date for its annual lottery to run throughout the hockey season rather than starting it after the season ends to create a better response.
"With a debt of around $75,000....some people would have just packed it up. We haven't because we've set ourselves up to succeed," McIntosh explained.
"When I saw there was 1,000 people at the free game that night (last year), it was probably one of the things filed away in my mind to keep us going. It shows there is that interest there.
"From a financial standpoint we're working with what we have; it's tough but it's solvable. If we can get more fans behind us in the rink, that's going to solve all those problems we have financially."
"And really, there is no reason why people shouldn't come out this season."
That's in part thanks to a busy off-season, and regular season last year, by GM Myles Cathcart.
After a year where suspensions and an off-ice issue depleted the Natives roster and coaching staff, Cathcart began looking to the future of the organization by trading for young, character hockey players rather than simply trading for cash considerations at the expense of diminishing the potential skill level on the roster.
With the young stars ready to head to camp this fall, coupled with the character leaders the Natives are expecting back from last season, the GM feels his team is in a position to not only succeed this year but for the next few years.
"People like our head scout Byron Billet who identifies players for us, helps them transition into Neepawa and really wants to see our program succeed have been putting in a lot of hours preparing for this year," Cathcart said, adding fans should expect very little player turnover this season as compared to previous seasons.
"We're going to be competitive right off the bat and people are going to be pleasantly surprised."
With the season right around the corner, the team is also in need of billets for its players. Anyone able to host an athlete for the season is asked to consider doing so and call Mary Ellen Clark at 476-6077 or Myles Cathcart.
"Having billets is really rewarding. Most of our alumni still keep that connection with their billet families years after graduating from the team," Cathcart pointed out.
Game volunteers are also needed and the Natives are looking for people willing to come up with fundraising ideas to support the team. One idea the organization is currently looking for support in is an annual crop fundraiser.
The Natives begin the regular season at home Friday, Sept. 21 with a 7:30 p.m. start time.