Top Shelf with Tony Uminski 1/25
Rampage goaltender Kent Simpson has waited patiently on the bench for the last 10 days. All-Star goaltender Spencer Martin had just been recalled to Colorado for the fourth time this season, and it was time again for Simpson to handle the excess baggage charge for his bulky goalie bag from Colorado of the ECHL and head south.
Netminder Jeremy Smith held down the fort in a 2-0 setback against Manitoba Friday night, but Smith got the W when the Rampage snapped a six-game winless streak with a 4-2 win Saturday night. Could Simpson get his first San Antonio game action since Dec. 16 against Rockford Sunday?
The three-game trifecta usually means playing time for associate goalies, since most coaches won’t ask their number-one guy to go three games in three nights. Even nutty goaltenders know that’s asking a lot from their bodies.
So Sunday’s matinee against Rockford saw Simpson be the last Rampage starter to be announced in pre-game glitz and glamour, and for whatever reasons, goaltenders seem to get the loudest applause. Maybe it’s because most fans can’t fathom donning the pads and helmet themselves and trying to stop a zipper off an AHL stick. But Simpson lives for those moments, for opponent shots, not his teammates in practice, and Sunday marked his most impressive appearance for the Rampage this season, a 3-2 overtime win over the IceHogs, his former team.
Is there any satisfaction in beating the organization that traded him in Oct, 2014?
“Totally,” Simpson said emphatically. “You kind of take it a little personally (getting dealt), there’s a little bit of added motivation. That one definitely felt good.”
Those 37 saves, including five in the overtime, also must have felt good for the seldom used Simpson, a former second round pick of the Blackhawks in the 2010 draft trying to establish himself in the organization.
Every goalie wants to play, but there’s only one crease, so practice time with upper level players helps keep Simpson sharp.
“Practice every day is something that you can take a lot out of, especially at this level,” said the Edmonton native. “It’s good to be around this. Of course every level you’re up you push yourself more and more.”
Practice once again paid off, as Simpson gloved, sticked, padded and jammed away shot after Hogs shot, including 13 in the final period to force overtime after a scoreless third.
“I thought he was unbelievable,” said Rampage coach Eric Veillieux. “He was very composed. It looked easy for him to make those saves. He looked like he did at training camp. He played very well tonight.”
In Boulder with the Eagles, Simpson was 3-5-1 with a 2.70 goals against with a shutout. Sunday’s game showed vast improvement in his game in earlier call-ups, where he surrendered 15 goals in five games.
“I liked being involved. I liked being able to take home the equipment when goalies were rotating around the team (as a kid),” Simpson recalled. “There was always a goalie bag and I liked the goalie stick, hanging out with it all day until I got to play. It was something I really liked doing.”
As with most young Canadian boys, moms and dads were a huge part of Simpson’s early days and Kelly and Michelle Simpson were no exception. “My dad’s a diehard hockey guy. We were rink rats together. He was always driving me around. My mom, there were three of us boys, she was always around. She would take me to practice here and there. She was my ‘everything’s ok’ kind of person. She was definitely a good ‘goalie mom,’ it wasn’t the end of the world when we lost a game.”
Usual early morning practices plus expensive gear and training helped get Simpson to the NHL’s second round with an Original Six team calling his name.
“It was certainly special. My whole family was there in LA, they decided to make the trip kind of last minute. I think if you talk to my dad it was one of the coolest experiences. (The Blackhawks) had just won the Cup so it was there for the draft party. Scotty Bowman was there. Steve Smith was there. Tons of alumni. I think my dad was kind of drooling. He got to take a picture with them and the Cup. It was a really cool experience.”
Simpson has seen NHL ice with the Blackhawks, getting into a game for one period in Toronto of all places, and on Hockey Night in Canada of all times. “Probably the most nervous I’ve been in my entire life. I look back on it as something that was really cool and also wonder how I would handle that these days with a little bit more experience. I felt young and really nervous. It was a fun experience playing in that fishbowl.”
Edmonton goalies were his favorites growing up. Those days of Tommy Salo and Nick Essensa, “but as the years go along, you look around the league, you know, when I went off to junior, I wasn’t so much a team fan, but I became a goalie fan. I liked following certain goalies I liked to watch.”
Anyone in particular? “I think (Montreal’s) Carey Price. Most goalies will watch him. He’s so calm. That’s impressive stuff that they can keep their composure like that.”
Any more games like Sunday’s for Simpson, who, when asked, said that Homer is a distant relative, and coach Veilleux will have a difficult decision on who will be scuffing up the crease that night, and that’s a dream decision to have for any coach.
In Case You Missed It
Former Rampage goalie Spencer Martin played his first NHL game Saturday against the defending Western Conference Champion San Jose Sharks. The Avalanche lost the contest in overtime, with Martin giving up three goals, and made a strong impression on his teammates and team executives in the process…former Rampage defenseman Dave Schlemko scored the game-winner, only his second of the season…Simpson on Martin’s debut, “It’s awesome! I was really, really, happy for him. It was great to see.”…this next note comes under the “another Rampage player with a TJ Brennan trade connection” department. AHL All-Star defenseman TJ Brennan was slated to play in San Antonio three years ago, but was traded to Nashville for another AHL front liner, Bobby Butler, who led the Rampage in goals that season. Brennan was also in the deal that sent Simpson to the New York Islanders with defenseman Nick Leddy…Brennan is tied for 8th in scoring this season with 35 points from his point position…former Rampage forwards Wade Megan and Bracken Kearns made headlines this week with Megan nabbing his 20th goal of the year, while Kearns, tied for ninth in scoring, tallied the game-winner over Toronto Saturday night, his 16th of the season…A.J. Greer is tied for fourth in rookie scoring with 30 points…Jake DeBrusk of the Providence Bruins leads all rookies with 119 shots on goal. His dad, Louis, played for the San Antonio Dragons in 1997…the Rampage improved to 2-4 in overtime after Rocco Grimaldi’s gamer with 15 seconds left in the extra session Sunday, San Antonio’s first OT win at home and Grimaldi’s fifth overtime winner with the Rampage! Maybe start calling him, “Captain Late?”…SA is 13-4-2 when scoring first.
January 20th against Bakersfield, Mikko Rantanen scored the hat trick in the 5-2 Rampage win over the Condors in the AT&T Center. Roman Will got the win in goal, while Maxim Noreau and Colin Smith added markers for the Rampage. Noreau is playing in Bern, Switzerland this season and scored 45 points last year from the blueline for SA…Smith is still in Toronto playing for the Marlies after his trade to the Maple Leafs organization for Shawn Matthias. Matthias signed with Winnipeg after the season, while Smith continues with the Marlies this year.
The Los Angeles Kings top farm team, the Ontario Reign, is in town this weekend. Come see the Rampage take on one of the best teams in the AHL Friday at 7:30 and Saturday at 7. Former Dallas Stars number one draft pick, Jack Campbell, has found his game after leaving the Texas Stars. He’s 18-6-3 coming into the games this weekend.