Wayne Simpson came to Union in 2009 with a reputation as a goal scorer.
But he spent most of his freshman season holding on to the puck and looking for the perfect shot instead of just shooting it. Simpson finished with just six goals, along with 12 assists, in 39 games.
Since then, Simpson has been shooting the puck and scoring, and because of that, he is closing in on a milestone.
Simpson goes into the 13th-ranked Dutchmen’s two-game non-conference series at Lake Superior State this weekend needing just two points to reach 100 for his career. He will become the ninth Dutchmen Division I player to accomplish the feat.
“I haven’t really known about it too much,” Simpson said. “But it’s going to be nice, once it’s all said and done, to have done that.”
Simpson came to Union from Lawrence Academy, where he
recorded 34 goals and 31 assists and was second in scoring in the New England Prep School Hockey Association. But the goals weren’t coming during his freshman year, mainly because Simpson was holding on to the puck too long and not taking advantage of the opportunities that were given him.
“I expected to score goals,” Simpson said. “The coaches were all over me. They took me aside. We worked on shooting more. It was just an adjustment I had to go through.”
Union coach Rick Bennett was an assistant during Simpson’s first two years with the Dutchmen. He believes it took Simpson a year to understand the college game.
“Sometimes, when you have a skill level of that, and I think it’s pretty elite — his skill set, his hands — and, sometimes, he’s trying to find the fine line of when to use the happy hands and when to shoot the puck,” Bennett said. “When you have a great shot, too, sometimes it becomes a detriment trying to figure out when do I try to stick handle around a guy, or when do I shoot through the guy.
“I think he’s figured that out. That just comes from his overall evolution as a player.”
Simpson had an outstanding sophomore season, collecting 16 goals as Union captured its first ECAC Hockey regular season title. Last year, Simpson had 18 as the Dutchmen won their second straight ECACH regular season championship, took their first ECACH tournament title and won the NCAA East Regional on their way to the Frozen Four.
This season, Simpson has nine goals and 10 assists. In 137 career games, Simpson has 49 goals and 49 assists.
“Maybe it would have been better if it didn’t take so long to go through that adjustment period,” Simpson said. “But in the end, my teammates helped a lot and the coaches helped a lot to make me better in that aspect of the game.”
Simpson is on pace for a 20-goal season. But he knows there is plenty of work to be done in order to achieve that goal.
“My linemates have been great,” Simpson said. “Playing with Kyle Bodie and Daniel Ciampini, they’re finding me a lot. With team success, there’s going to be a lot possible. [Scoring 20 goals] would be a nice achievement to have.”
Simpson said his wrist shot is his strongest shot.
“It’s definitely the most I use in a game,” Simpson said. “I don’t take slap shots too much.”
Simpson doesn’t care how he records his 100th point.
“Either way, it will be nice to have,” Simpson said. “Most of all, we have to keep the wins coming.”
The Dutchmen (9-4-4) play Lake Superior tonight at 7:35 and at 7:05 p.m. Saturday. Union is coming off last Sunday’s 4-1 victory over Merrimack in the second round of the Catamount Cup. The Dutchmen scored all of their goals in the third period to help snap a five-game (0-2-3) winless streak. The final three goals came at even strength, including one by Simpson late in the period.
“Our even-strength play had been struggling, until the Merrimack game,” Simpson said. “We’ve got to keep that going. We can’t just rely on special teams to win us every game.”
This is the Dutchmen’s first trip to Lake Superior State. The teams met just once before. They played to a 0-0 tie in the first round of the 2009 Rensselaer Holiday Classic. The Dutchmen won a shootout to advance to the championship game, where they beat Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute to capture the title.
The Lakers (10-10) have won three straight. They haven’t played since beating Northern Michigan, 3-1, Dec. 15. Senior forward Nick McFarland leads the Lakers in scoring with five goals and 11 assists.
“The scariest thing I heard about Lake Superior is they don’t beat themselves,” Bennett said. “Anytime you play a team that doesn’t beat themselves, it’s a tough matchup, I don’t care who you’re playing.”
RPI FACES HOCKEY EAST
RPI (6-7-4), which is coming off Monday’s 6-2 victory over Sacred Heart, travels to two Hockey East opponents this weekend.
The Engineers take on ninth-ranked Boston University (10-6) tonight at 7:30, and then face No. 4 New Hampshire (11-3-2) at 7 p.m. Saturday.
The Engineers are 5-2-2 in their last seven games.