For Walleye goalie Kent Simpson, an early infatuation with the unusual nature of goaltender equipment got him hooked on the position.
Simpson recalled that when his youth coach back in Edmonton brought out a bag full of the bulky pads there was a buzz among the youngsters.
“I fell in love with the gear,” Simpson said. “When I was young I just really liked the equipment. When he brought out that special bag everyone wanted to see the big glove, and the blocker, and the chest protector. That got me really interested.”
That early spark led to a young life filled with time spent between the pipes. Simpson, 20, is now in his first full professional season. He said it's a fulfillment of a dream.
“I just always wanted to be a pro hockey player,” Simpson said. “It's been a constant building block process. I've worked hard to progress, and I'll never be satisfied.”
With just eight pro games under his belt with the Walleye, Simpson is off to a solid start. He is ranked seventh in the ECHL with a 2.36 goals-against average.
READ MORE: On the Hook: Kent Simpson
Simpson was in goal Saturday night and nearly got his first pro shutout. Toledo pounded the Wheeling Nailers 6-1 at the Huntington Center.
The Walleye (8-6-1) have won four of their last five games and have climbed into second place in the North Division.
Toledo begins a busy stretch with four games in five days at 7:30 p.m. today at Cincinnati. The Walleye are back home for a Friday game against the Cyclones. They then play at Fort Wayne and Kalamazoo on Saturday and Sunday.
The recent hot stretch comes on the heels of a four-game losing streak.
“I think we've gotten used to playing with each other,” Simpson said. “Everyone is on the same page and we're playing more simply.”
Simpson, who also had an assist Saturday, did not give up a goal until 1 minute, 48 seconds remained. “We're getting great goaltending from him right now,” Walleye coach Nick Vitucci said. “Kent had another fantastic performance.”
Simpson has a 3-4-1 record and a .906 save percentage. Simpson won in his Toledo debut, a 3-2 victory over Cincinnati on Oct. 19.
“It's been good,” he said. “I'm feeling comfortable in net. That is the biggest thing. Obviously I want to win more games, but things happen and you have to shake it off.”
At 6-foot-3 and 200 pounds, Simpson possess the size that NHL teams covet these days.
Simpson was selected by the Chicago Blackhawks in the second round of the 2010 NHL draft. The organization signed him to a three-year, entry-level NHL contract in March. Simpson made his pro debut with Rockford of the American Hockey League last April. He played in just the one AHL game and was assigned to Toledo entering this season.
He has split time with Petr Mrazek and Jordan Pearce this season with the Walleye. But Simpson has made the most starts.
The inconsistent workload is new to Simpson, who was the No. 1 goaltender for the Everett Silvertips of the Western Hockey League for the last two seasons. He played in 53 games in 2010-11 and appeared in 60 games last season. He spent his entire junior career with Everett and had a 3.02 GAA.
“I loved playing in all those games,” Simpson said. “You always want to be the starting goalie. The more games, the better. So this is a little different and you have to get used to it.”
Simpson said another adjustment has been facing bigger and stronger players that are “competing for their livelihoods.” Simpson said he is focused are continuing to build his skills to reach his ultimate goal.
“Toledo has been great so far,” he said. “The building is unbelievable and the fan base is great. I'd love to be battling up in Rockford but this is where they put me and I want to make the most of it.”
FISH TALES: The Detroit Red Wings reassigned defenseman Gleason Fournier from Grand Rapids to Toledo on Tuesday. He played in 55 games for the Walleye last season (two goals, 16 assists). He played in 16 games in the AHL with Grand Rapids (goal, three assists). ... Toledo released forwards Todd Griffith and Josh Turnbull on Tuesday. Griffith appeared in four games for Toledo with no points. Last season, he scored 12 goals with nine assists in 24 games with the Walleye. Turnbull had one goal in five games this season. ... At Friday's home game, Cleveland Browns legend Hanford Dixon will make an appearance. During the first intermission, 1,000 turkey hats will be dropped from the ceiling. Following the game a party with the players will be held on the Club Level.
Contact Mark Monroe at: firstname.lastname@example.org, 419-724-6354 or on Twitter @MonroeBlade.