MJHL Playoff Preview: Nighthawks Ready for Round One

Ty Dilello

The Niverville Nighthawks will enter the MJHL playoffs as massive underdogs in their first-round series against the top-seed Steinbach Pistons.

It’s going to be a tall order, but the Nighthawks appear to be up to the task. They have ended the regular season on a winning note, earning victories in seven of their last nine games.

“Building momentum is on the point of building confidence, habits, and hard work,” said Nighthawks head coach Dwight Hirst. “We’ve been trending in that direction for the last few weeks here.”

“It is definitely nice to have some momentum going into playoffs,” added forward Brendan Bottem. “We’ve really dialled in our defensive zone over the last couple of weeks by letting in very few goals, so it’s nice to go into playoffs playing some of our best hockey.”

The playoffs are the best time of the year for any team, and the fact that the Nighthawks have made the postseason in each of their first two MJHL seasons is an accomplishment in itself.

“You play all of the regular season to get to this point, so it’s exciting,” said Bottem. “Playoffs are always the best because they bring out the best in everyone. Every play and every shift ramps up another notch during this time of the year. It’s always fun.”

“Steinbach are the regular season champions this year,” said Hirst. “But everything starts fresh for everyone on Friday, and both teams recognize that. We’ve been preparing all week, and the last few weeks, for our opportunity this Friday.”

If the Nighthawks are going to have any chance against Steinbach, they will need to rely on out-of-this-world goaltending from rookie Raiden LeGall, who has had a strong campaign and boasts a 20–14–2 record with a 2.73 goals-against average and a .920 save percentage.

“Goaltending is key for any team that wants to contend,” said Hirst. “But playing our game and not getting into the style that Steinbach wants to play is the real key.”

The best-of-seven series gets underway on Friday night in Steinbach (7:00 p.m.). A couple of nights later, on Sunday, March 24, the action shifts to Niverville. Puck drop for game two will once again be 7:00 p.m.

“I think it starts by locking down the defensive zone,” said Bottem. “If we keep the puck out of our net, that definitely helps us out. I would say special teams play a big factor as well. If we win the special teams battle, we have a good chance to win every game. If we can do those things, then I like our chances.”

The 2023–24 Nighthawks Team Awards were also presented last Saturday at the club’s last regular season home game.

First, the team’s departing 20-year-olds were recognized: Alex Walicki, Michael Debrito, Colin Whaley, Josh Danis, Brendan Bottom, Michael Tanchak (assistant captain), and Brett Tataryn (captain).

The year’s best defenceman award went to Kaycee Coyle (assistant captain), whereas the best forward was Michael Debrito.

The most outstanding first-year played (sponsored by Eskimo Point Lumber Supply) was a tie between Raiden LeGall and Nathan Brown.

The Fan Favourite Award (sponsored by Lansard Bros Roofing Ltd.) was Ty Kennett.

The Coaches’ Choice Award was Colin Whaley.

The Humanitarian Award (sponsored by the Kleyson family) was Carter Spirig.

The Three Stars Award (sponsored by Pillar Wealth Management) went to Raiden LeGall.

The year’s Most Valuable Player (sponsored by Clarence and Ruth Braun) was Kaycee Coyle.

The Volunteer of the Year (sponsored by the Kleyson family) was Barry Nacci, who works in the area of food and beverage.

Finally, the Nighthawks’ full quarterfinal series playoff schedule is as follows:

  • Friday, March 22 in Steinbach, 7:00 p.m.
  • Sunday, March 24 in Niverville, 7:00 p.m.
  • Tuesday, March 26 in Steinbach, 7:00 p.m.
  • Thursday, March 28 in Niverville, 7:30 p.m.
  • Saturday, March 30 in Steinbach, 7:00 p.m. (if necessary)
  • Sunday, March 31 in Niverville, 7:00 p.m. (if necessary)
  • Tuesday, April 2 in Steinbach, 7:00 p.m. (if necessary)