Desperate for a win to keep their Calder Cup Playoff hopes alive, the Rockford IceHogs were concluding their 2012-13 regular season in Texas against the Western Conference Champion Stars.
Rockford had been cruising towards the end of their slate, winning seven of their prior eight contests while scoring at a torrid 4.25 goals per game pace heading into the season finale.
Despite the red hot offense and desperate need for a win, Rockford went down 3-0, 22-seconds into the second period against one of the stingiest teams in the league. The IceHogs, however, would score the game’s final five goals en route to a season-ending win over the Stars.
Unfortunately for Rockford, they didn’t make the postseason as the Milwaukee Admirals would edge them for the final playoff spot, but one aspect that was overlooked in the season finale in Texas was the play of rookie goalie Kent Simpson.
Simpson came in relief of Henrik Karlsson in the second period and would turn away all 32 Stars shots to earn his first career AHL win. The IceHogs are hoping that is a prelude to the 2013-14 campaign for the Edmonton native.
“Yeah it’s always a little bit nerve racking when you go in cold,” said Simpson about getting put in mid-game. “The blood, the heart’s pumping a little bit faster than normal. But something as a goalie, you kind of get used to it and I was just happy to get the opportunity and I think I felt comfortable because I was comfortable with the guys that were there.”
It marked Simpson’s third career AHL appearance in just over a calendar year. His only previous AHL game in 2012-13 came against the same Stars squad on Jan. 21 and it was Simpson and the IceHogs who were on the wrong end of a contest in which Rockford blew a 3-0 lead.
As a young hockey prospect, the process of becoming a National Hockey League player takes a lot of patience. No position in the game takes more patience than a goaltender and Simpson is learning that now.
During his first full professional season, Simpson played 43 games between Rockford and the ECHL’s Toledo Walleye, with the majority of them coming in Toledo (41). According to Chicago Blackhawks Developmental Goaltending Coach Andrew Allen, the quantity of games was key for Simpson.
“I think as a first year pro our number one goal with (Simpson) is to play hockey, to play games, get pro experience and I think we accomplished that,” replied Allen. “He played well, especially down the stretch in Toledo, into the playoffs and then got to play with us in Rockford the last game of the year.
“He gets put in and plays dynamite so I think from a mental maturity standpoint he’s a lot farther ahead this year than he was last year knowing what to expect and being ready. I mean he’s really ready to try to cement himself as an American Hockey League goalie.”
Allen and the Blackhawks brass are hoping that that confidence carries over into the summer and into this September’s training camp in Chicago and Rockford.
Of the 4,561 minutes played by Rockford goalies last season, all but Simpson’s 97:50 are gone from the upcoming roster. Carter Hutton has signed with the Nashville Predators, while Alec Richards and Karlsson are still free agents and won’t be retained by the organization.
With Simpson, along with Antti Raanta and Mac Carruth, battling for the two goalie spots in Rockford, IceHogs fans are assured to see some fresh faces between the pipes. The trio has a combined 161 minutes played in the AHL (all from Simpson), but Simpson has some high expectations.
“Obviously going in every year you have some pretty high expectations for yourself,” said Simpson. “But I think I’ve put my time in and I want to make an impression in the American Hockey League now and I want to come in and earn some minutes and go from there.”
At July’s Blackhawks’ Prospect Camp, Simpson was there, not necessarily to take part in the practice sessions and scrimmages, but to get some summer ice time with Allen.
“He’s ready, he’s proven it and it’s just another step for him to show to the Blackhawks organization he’s a pro now and that he’s ready,” added Allen. “But the biggest thing to bring Kent into this camp was to get a little more time in the summer working with me to help and leaving this camp with goals in mind to be ready for training camp.”
“When you get back home this summer, summer skates consist of a lot of scrimmages and player specific drills,” commented Simpson. “So it’s tough for a goalie a lot of the time. There’s not a lot of defense and you’re getting scored on quite a bit. But, it’s nice to come here and get some time in with the goalie coach and do stuff that’s specific to you and once you’ve got that under your belt you can take it home with you and work on it in those summer skate situations.”