For North Dakota junior defenseman Dillon Simpson, the comparisons with his father, Craig, are numerous. While their skill of hockey would be toward the top of the comparison list so would their academic prowess. In fact, they both graduated high school an entire year early so they could get a head start on their college careers.
The elder Simpson, who spent 10 years in the NHL with Pittsburgh, Edmonton and Buffalo, started his academic and athletic careers at Michigan State as a 16-year-old in 1983, while the younger Simpson began at North Dakota in 2010 as a 17-year old.
“When I got the opportunity to be able to go to North Dakota it was a great situation and a way to increase the level of hockey in which I was playing,” Dillon said. “It was a lot to manage playing my last year of Juniors while also taking basically a double class load, but my parents supported my decision to finish high school early. With my dad starting at Michigan State when he was 16 maybe you can say it’s a family thing.”
As an Edmonton, Alberta, native, Simpson had the opportunity to play at the highest level of Junior hockey in Canada, but never really considered it. He always had his heart set on going to college, and now Simpson is a double-major in managerial finance and corporate accounting at North Dakota.
“Growing up in Canada, a lot of players play in Major Juniors, but I was lucky enough that my dad played in college so he took me to a couple of college games when I was younger,” Simpson said. “It never really was a decision for me, and my parents always stressed the importance of education so I knew I was going to play college hockey. I have never regretted the decision.”
While the adjustment to college hockey was difficult at first, Simpson hasn’t missed a beat.
“I have made a lot of progress since I first came [to North Dakota],” Simpson said. “I am a lot more confident and feel like I have the ability to step in and be an impact guy. At 17, it was tough because I wasn’t the best skater, but I put in a ton of work to get better and it has paid off.”
The improvement has been noticeable. As a freshman, Simpson scored 10 points on two goals and eight assists. Last year, he scored 18 points on two goals and 16 assists, including a plus-10 rating, which was second on the team among defensemen. Academically, he was named a WCHA Scholar-Athlete in addition to being selected to the All-WCHA Academic Team. This year, he already has 20 points on three goals and 17 assists. The assist total is third among conference defensemen.
“Dillon is one of the rare people that had the maturity and drive to truly be successful as a 17-year-old at this level, in all facets of his life,” North Dakota head coach Dave Hakstol said. “Since that time, he’s continued to grow and develop as a player, as a student and, most importantly, as a person. He has quickly become one of the most reliable people we have within our program.”
As a fourth-round pick in the 2011 NHL Entry Draft by the Edmonton Oilers, Simpson knows he still has plenty of work to do before reaching the next level.
“The knock on me has always been my foot speed,” Simpson said. “I have put a lot of focus on trying to improve it. I know that you can always improve so I need to keep working hard on my game. The other thing is I need to continue is to get bigger and stronger.”
For now, Simpson has his sights set on the season at hand. North Dakota is 17-9-6 overall and a virtual lock for the NCAA tournament which starts in a month. UND plays host to Bemidji State in a series this weekend, and then wraps up the regular season at Minnesota State-Mankato next weekend.
“This has been an interesting year for us with some ups and downs,” Simpson said. “The expectations here are always to win a national title so that is what our goal is this year, and I really feel like the team is getting hot at the right time.”
• Michigan State is playing host to Western Michigan this weekend and hoping for a packed house. Munn Arena hosted a sellout crowd of 6,574 fans on Feb. 16 vs. Northern Michigan, the fourth sellout of the year. The Spartans are a perfect 4-0 this season in games which feature a sellout crowd at home.
• Denver and Minnesota meet this weekend in Minneapolis for a two-game set. Denver owns a 4-1-0 record in its past five games versus Minnesota and is 8-2-0 in its past 10. In addition, the Pioneers are 3-1 at Maricucci Arena in its past four road meetings vs. the Gophers.
• St. Cloud State forward Jonny Brodzinski, a freshman from Ham Lake, Minn., leads the Huskies with 17 goals this season and ranks first among Division 1 freshmen with 17 goals. He has charted a point for the Huskies in 16 of the past 17 games and also has 10 assists this season. His father, Mike Brodzinski, was a two-time All-American for the Huskies in 1985-86 and 1986-87. The SCSU record for most goals posted by a first-year player is 22 by Mark Hartigan in 1999-2000.
• Holy Cross sophomore Matt Ginn already is second all time on the school’s Division I career victories list with 32. His 1,465 career saves are third. His career-best 836 saves this season are third all time for a Division I season at the school. The record is 840 set by former Crusaders star Tony Quesada in 2005-06.
Cornell and Boston U. announced they will be playing Thanksgiving Weekend 2013 at Madison Square Garden. … Rensselaer and Clarkson have played 139 times, and the Engineers have only shut out the Knights one time, in 1954. … Niagara has the nation’s leading home unbeaten streak at 20 games. … Bemidji State’s Jordan George is eight goals behind former Beaver and current Philadelphia Flyer Matt Read’s career record of 65. … Minnesota State has 20 wins this season and with a sweep of Colorado College would have the most wins in its Division I history. … Hobey Baker Memorial Award and postseason honors candidate Drew LeBlanc tied a St. Cloud State record on Feb. 23, as he played in his 161st career game as a Husky. LeBlanc is tied for the record that originally was set by Ryan Lasch from 2006-10. … Providence is unbeaten in its past seven Hockey East games (3-0-4), its longest such streak since 2003. … Connecticut junior Brant Harris has a current career-high, eight-game point streak, and has tallied six goals and eight assists for 14 points during that time frame. … Nebraska-Omaha forward Ryan Walters is still on pace to reach 50 points this season. The last time the Mavericks had a 50-point scorer was 2006-07 when Hobey Baker Award finalist Scott Parse concluded his UNO career with a 52-point campaign. Only two players, Scott Parse (twice, 61 and 52) and Bill Thomas (50) have scored 50 or more points in a season in UNO history. … Miami (Ohio) is unbeaten when scoring three goals or more this year, and is 16-0-1 when topping three goals and 11-0-0 when scoring four or more. … Vermont goalie Brody Hoffman has allowed a goal or less in four of its past five games. … Clarkson is 3-0 in its past three Friday games, but 0-3 in its past three Saturday games. … Merrimack’s penalty-kill unit has not allowed a goal at home in 2013, going 28-for-28.