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Dillon Simpson
Dillon Simpson

UND men's hockey: Simpson making an early impression

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sports Grand Forks, 58203

Grand Forks North Dakota 375 2nd Ave. N. 58203

The UND men's hockey team is growing mustaches this month and Dillon Simpson doesn't have a whisker.

That might be the only way to tell that he's only 17 years old.

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On the ice, the poised defenseman -- and son of a Stanley Cup champion -- has made his way through a deep and talented group on the blue line to earn ice time early in his career. And for the second weekend in a row, the Sioux will be counting on Simpson to play big minutes against top-notch competition.

First-pair defenseman Andrew MacWilliam and first-round pick Derek Forbort are both expected to miss the Minnesota-Duluth series because of an undisclosed illness.

That guarantees that Simpson will play regular shifts against the Bulldogs, who are unbeaten in eight games this season and ranked No. 2 in the country.

"So far, it's going pretty well and I'm enjoying myself," Simpson said. "It helps the confidence when I get to play more. It's been a good opportunity for me to get more comfortable out there and get my feet wet."

Arriving at college early is nothing new for the Simpson family.

Simpson's father, Craig, went to Michigan State at age 16 and was skating with the Pittsburgh Penguins by his 18th birthday. He went on to win a couple of Stanley Cups with the Oilers and also coached with the organization.

Now, Craig is the lead analyst for CBC's Hockey Night in Canada. He usually sets up a laptop in the press box of whatever NHL game he's covering and keeps an eye on a webcast of Dillon's games.

Hockey Night in Canada even showed Simpson's Friday-night goal against Denver -- the first of his career. Simpson found a loose puck in the slot. He was alone and had two chances to put the puck past Denver goalie Sam Brittain.

"I had so much time, I was confused what to do," Simpson said with a laugh. "I was surprised I had that much time in the slot. Defensemen like myself rarely are in that position. Luckily, it went in."

Dillon said he told UND's coaches he wanted to come to school as a 17-year-old. The Sioux coaching staff scouted the Alberta Junior Hockey League rookie of the year often last season.

"We talked a lot and they decided to bring me in," said Simpson, who skated with the Spruce Grove Saints. "It's a great fit for me. I came in early (in the summer) and getting that extra training during the summer and getting comfortable has helped a lot."

Foot speed

Foot speed will always be an area of focus for Simpson.

At age 12 or 13, he was moved from forward to defense because he "wasn't the fastest skater." Still, he's able to compensate in other ways.

"He's been efficient in moving the puck out of the zone," UND coach Dave Hakstol said. "He's done a pretty good job down low in his coverage. The only time you really glaringly noticed him on the ice Friday was when he scored his first goal. . . and that's a good thing for a young defenseman.

"We're going to keep increasing his minutes with the challenge we face in terms of Derek and Andrew being out for the weekend. We're going to continue developing his minutes back there."

Reach Schlossman at (701) 780-1129; (800) 477-6572, ext. 129; or send e-mail to bschlossman@gfherald.com.

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