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They were in a heated battle for third place in the East Division with the Portage Terriers.

Entering the Christmas break at 20-12-1, the Niverville Nighthawks were looking to pass the Terriers in the standings so they could avoid playing the top-ranked team in the first round of the Turnbull Cup playoffs. At this point, that is the Steinbach Pistons.

As we now approach the home stretch of the 2023-24 regular season, the Nighthawks are just trying to advance to the big dance. Since the flip of the calendar from 2023 to 2024, it has been a big struggle for the league's newest franchise. In their second year in the league, Niverville has won just three of their first 15 games of 2024.

Nine of the losses have come in regulation while the team has two overtime losses and one shootout loss throughout their first 15 contests. The Nighthawks made two rather large trades at the deadline that saw them add Alex Walicki and Josh Danis. Walicki had 36 points in 34 games to start the season with Swan Valley while Danis had 23 points in 31 games to start the campaign with the Stampeders. Since joining Niverville, Walicki has just nine points in 13 games while Danis has struggled heavily with one goal and three assists across 13 contests.

Not only has Niverville struggled as of late offensively, they have not been able to keep the puck out of their net. Coming off an 8-2 loss against Portage, Niverville has given up 57 goals over their last 10 games which is an average of just less than six goals allowed per game over the 10-game period. The Nighthawks have given up five goals or more in eight of those contests and six or more in six of them. 

Between the pipes, Raiden Legall, last year's top goaltender in the Manitoba U18 AAA Hockey League, has seen his goals-against average rise to 3.04 while Keegan Gordon's is at 3.60 to go along with his .888 save percentage.

Kevin Pauls is the team's marketing director as well as play-by-play voice and as he says, things need to change.

"If you look at the team's defence playing in front of Raiden and Keegan, I am seeing some pretty discouraging things," said Paul. "Also on the offensive side of things, the team has struggled to capitalize on the power play and that has been a big difference. The team hasn't been able to battle enough throughout a full 60-minute game."

Mired in a slump at the worst of times, Niverville is also getting used to a new man who is leading the organization on an interim basis. Last week, the club announced that they relieved Kelvin Cech of his duties as head coach and general manager. 

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Cech, who was named MJHL Coach of the Year with the Winkler Flyers in the 2019-20 season, led Niverville to the playoffs last year in the team's first season; however, the team felt a new direction was needed.

The team's chair of the board of directors, Clarence Braun commented after the news.

“Upon the recommendation of hockey operations, we decided to relieve our head coach/general manager,” says Braun. “The trend within the past three weeks was not good. We had a difficult post-Christmas last year, but we were at the least competitive. This year we were getting blown out and that was unacceptable. It’s all about players competing and not necessarily winning. We were not competing.”

On the same note, Pauls believes Kelvin won't be out of a job for long.

"Kelvin was fantastic to work with, he knows the game and he is a great evaluator of talent," said Pauls. "He has a great mind to be a coach. He is a big reason why Winkler was so successful when he left and that will be the case here in Niverville as well."

Niverville has now announced that Mike McAulay has accepted the interim role of general manager and Dwight Hirst has been hired as interim coach for the remainder of the 2023-24 season. Hirst has spent the past four seasons as head coach of the Eastman Selects, a team the Parkland Rangers will play two times this weekend in Beasujour to wrap up their season.

Kings fans will get a chance to see Dwight and the rest of the Nighthawks this weekend as Dauphin plays host to them on Saturday night at Credit Union Place. Dauphin beat the Nighthawks, 6-0, in their last meeting earlier this year. Niverville is just three points ahead of Selkirk for the fourth and final playoff spot in the East Division.