Rookie goaltender Kent Simpson adjusting to life as a proWritten by Vincent D. Scebbi | | firstname.lastname@example.org
For rookie goaltender Kent Simpson, adjusting to the pros has been as much about his time off the ice as his time between the pipes for the Toledo Walleye.
“I think the biggest thing is off the ice, living on your own and cooking your own meals and taking care of yourself,” Simpson said. “It’s a good learning experience that way and obviously the guys are bigger here and you’re playing against men out there. I’d say those are the two biggest things.”
The Edmonton, Alberta, native said living with his teammates has helped him adjust to the pro lifestyle and said his time away from the ice rink goes hand-in-hand with his performance when it’s game time.
“If you’re taking good care of your body then you’re going to play better ultimately,” he said. “It’s an ongoing thing and you’ve got to take care of yourself both on and off the ice so that’s eating well, stretching, taking care of your body.”
Simpson’s had to make some adjustments on the ice, however, when moving up from the Western Hockey League (WHL), a junior league in Canada, to the ECHL, where hockey is a step quicker.
“It’s different,” Simpson said. “Guys are bigger and stronger and there are some small differences. But it’s still hockey and there’s still one puck out there and my job doesn’t change really.”
Head coach Nick Vitucci said Simpson hasn’t had to make too many adjustments to the game from the WHL because there are a lot of similarities between the two leagues.
“I think there are a lot of similarities between that league and our league in the amount of games we play, the bus travel that the players get adjusted to,” Vitucci said. “They might have a little more time during the day because they’re not in school and things like that. Otherwise, I don’t worry about those Canadian junior kids turning pro and having a lot of adjustments to make.”
Vitucci said from his experience as a goalie and coach that when a goalie moves into the higher leagues, his job can get easier because the teammates in front of him don’t make as many mistakes on defense.
In the 10 games Simpson started this season, he is 4-5-1 and has a save percentage of .899 and a goals against average of 2.50.
Vitucci said Simpson’s mobility and size are huge attributes as well as his hard work ethic.
“You can see his attitude. He wants to learn and wants to get better and has fun with it, which is very important,” he said. “Especially for the players who play in front of him and see he’s working hard and has fun doing it. There’s a certain respect level that happens.”
Going into the season, the Walleye had two rookie net minders in Simpson and Petr Mrazek. Vitucci said he wasn’t concerned about it because he knew both of his goaltenders had the talent to play in the pros.
“It doesn’t really worry me about first-year goalies or fifth-year goalies,” Vitucci said. “If you see something in them, you feel confident in them, it doesn’t really matter to me. There are some great first-year goaltenders throughout our league and every league in the world out there.”
As the season continues, Vitucci said Simpson’s main goals for the season are to get experience on the ice so he can continue to grow.
“They’ve got to be able to follow the puck and get the game situations under their belts,” Vitucci said. “I think that’s the track for [Simpson] this year, get 30-plus games at the pro level whether it’s here or at the American Hockey League and that’s something he can build off of for next year.”
Simpson was drafted in the second round of the 2010 NHL Entry Draft by the Chicago Blackhawks.
In five seasons with the Everett Silvertips, Simpson had a goals against average of 3.02 and a .911 save percentage.
He played one game with the Blackhawks AHL affiliate Rockford IceHogs last season and made 38 saves in a shootout loss.