College hockey: Union looks to Simpson to help improve playoff position
Wayne Simpson got the message. Now, with Union battling for home ice for the ECAC Hockey tournament, the senior right winger and team’s leading goal scorer needs to step up his game this weekend.
After being a healthy scratch for last Saturday’s 4-2 loss at Cornell, Simpson hopes to be back in the lineup this weekend at Messa Rink as the Dutchmen close out the regular season by hosting St. Lawrence tonight and Clarkson on Saturday. Game times are 7 p.m.
The Dutchmen (8-8-4 ECACH, 15-12-5 overall) are in sixth place and need two points to assure themselves of home ice in at least the first round of the ECACH tournament. They will need some help to get their fourth straight first-round bye, though, standing three points behind second-place Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, two points in back of third-place St. Lawrence (9-7-4, 16-12-4) and one behind Dartmouth and Yale, who are tied for the final bye slot. Quinnipiac is the No. 1 seed.
Simpson leads Union with 13 goals and is tied with senior center Kyle Bodie for the team points lead with 29. But after failing to record a point and posting a minus-2 in last Friday’s 4-1 loss at Colgate, Union coach Rick Bennett decided to sit Simpson. It was the first time that Simpson had been kept out of the lineup in his Union career. He had played in 151 straight games.
“I thought about it and got out of it what I can,” said Simpson, who, this season, became the ninth Union Division I player to record 100 career points. “I’ve put it behind me and trying not to think about it anymore.”
Asked what he got out of the benching, Simpson said. “It’s a different perspective to watch the game. It made me realize how much I missed it. I just got back to work. We’ve had a good week of practice, and we’re excited for the weekend.”
Simpson hasn’t had a multigoal game this season. Since a one-goal, two-assist effort against Merrimack Dec. 30, Simpson has just four goals and six assists in his last 14 games, and only one goal in the last seven games he has played.
When asked if Simpson was returning to the lineup tonight, Bennett wouldn’t comment. But Bennett believes Simpson learned his lesson.
“Knowing Wayne, he’s a very strong kid,” Bennett said. “For sure, he’s going to shine through.”
One player who definitely won’t play this weekend is Saints captain Kyle Flanagan. The senior forward, who is the team’s second leading scorer with 14 goals and 28 assists and a Hobey Baker Award candidate, had an emergency appendectomy on Tuesday.
But the Dutchmen will still have to deal with junior forward Greg Carey, who tops the Saints with 25 goals and 22 assists and is, like Flanagan, a Hobey Baker candidate. Senior defenseman George Hughes has five goals and 25 assists, and junior forward Jeremy Wick has 13 goals and 12 assists.
“They’re a good team,” Bodie said. “Obviously, [Flanagan’s] putting up some great numbers this year. But they have a really good top line and good power play. You take one guy out of that equation, I’m not sure how much it’s going to affect them because they have a well-rounded unit. We just have to worry about our game and stick to our game plan in order to shut down their other weapons.”
RPI CLOSE TO BYE
While Union has been used to getting first-round byes, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute has not. Since the ECACH started the
12-team tournament format in 2003, the Engineers have never earned a first-round bye.
But the Engineers (10-7-3, 15-12-5) are on the verge of ending that drought. With a win tonight over Clarkson (8-9-3, 9-16-7) at Houston Field House, RPI can have next weekend off and prepare for the best-of-three quarterfinals the following weekend.
“It’s pretty exciting to know that we have a chance to be where we are right now, and we’ve worked so hard for it and we’ve earned
every single win and tie that we’ve had,” RPI senior defenseman Nick Bailen said. “It’s definitely been a process, so it’s definitely something to be proud of. We’ve just got to keep the momentum going into the playoffs.”
From the way RPI started league play, home-ice advantage in the first round — let alone a first-round bye — seemed out of the question. The Engineers dropped their first four games, including losses to Union the first two games by a combined
11-5 margin, and were 0-5-1 after six contests.
“I was just worried about having a good practice on Monday,” RPI coach Seth Appert said. “That’s how bad we were. Those [first] two weekends were disgusting. I couldn’t have done a worse job getting our guys emotionally ready for the Union series. We were im-mature and undisciplined. We didn’t respond very well the next Friday night. That was, by far, the worst game of the year at Dartmouth [a 4-0 loss].”
But since then, RPI has gone 10-2-2, and is 9-1 in the last 10 games.
Appert didn’t concern himself with the standings after the slow start. Despite the Engineers’ recent success, Appert’s attitude has remained the same.
“We’re not naive to the situation, but we don’t talk about it,” Appert said. “We haven’t talked about it since November. We have a standings board, and the guys are smart, young men in that room and they know. But we, in all honesty, have not talked about the standings and trying to finish in a certain spot since Nov. 9 and 10, when we were in a miserable place. Our focus has been trying to come to practice every day and get better, and try to be a team that was playing its best hockey come February, March and, hopefully, April.”