The closer the WHL season has come to crunch time, the more the Tips have relied on Simpson in goal, and his constant presence in Everett's net is now approaching historic proportions.
Simpson has started each of Everett's past 18 games. That is just two short of the franchise record for consecutive starts, held by Leland Irving. Simpson could match that total this weekend.
It's a heavy workload for a goalie, but one Simpson has eagerly accepted.
"I think it's good," Simpson said. "It's what every goalie wants to do, which is play. When you're playing, you kind of get into a groove, get into a rhythm. When you're feeling that rhythm it's definitely good for a goalie."
Simpson has performed admirably during this stretch. During these 18 starts, Simpson has a 2.56 goals against average, a .929 save percentage and two shutouts. That has pulled him up into sixth in the league in goals against average (2.79) and fourth in save percentage (.915). He's perhaps the primary reason why the Tips are 9-6-3-0 over that stretch and back into the playoff race.
Simpson said physically he's holding up "awesome" to the heavy workload, and Tips coach Craig Hartsburg concurs.
"He's fine," Hartsburg said. "He's a big guy and he's a character kid. At this time of year fatigue isn't an issue for character kids. This time of year they want to be on the ice, whether you're a goalie, a forward or a defenseman."
Simpson's workload is a dramatic departure from last season. Last season, Simpson and Thomas Heemskerk split Everett's goaltending duties almost straight down the middle, with Heemskerk appearing in 42 games to Simpson's 34. Neither goalie started more than four consecutive games. That pattern even extended into the playoffs.
Therefore, the heavy workload is a new experience for Simpson.
"It's definitely different," Simpson said. "There was definitely a learning curve I went through at the beginning of the year. I think it was more mentally than physically. I came to camp in decent shape, but just going with the ups and downs was the biggest thing to overcome, and I think I went through it pretty well."
This isn't the first time in Everett's eight-year history that the Tips have leaned heavily on one goaltender. In 2005-06, Irving started 67 of Everett's 72 games. Simpson still trails Irving's longest consecutive start streak from that season, when Irving started the Silvertips' first 20 games. Irving also had consecutive start streaks of 17 and 14 that season.
That heavy usage didn't hinder Irving during the season as he finished third in the league in goals against average (1.91), and Everett won the U.S. Division title. Irving then led the Tips through two victorious playoff series before suffering a groin injury that kept him out of all but one game of the Western Conference finals.
And Simpson is still far behind Seattle goaltender Calvin Pickard's workload. Pickard has started the T-birds' past 33 games. This season Pickard has started every game but one for which he was available.
Those examples indicate goalies might not require as much rest as conventional wisdom sometimes suggests.
"There was a year in (Sault Ste. Marie) where I played a kid 64 of 68 games and he was 5-foot-10, 160 pounds," Hartsburg said. "It's what's best for your team.
"For those guys they have to monitor their energy level a little more in practice than a forward or a defenseman, they can't try to stop every shot in practice," Hartsburg added. "But when you're a No. 1 goalie you get into that frame of mind that you want to be in the net and should be in the net, and I don't think fatigue is ever an issue for them."
Everett has nine games remaining in the regular season, and every one of those games probably will mean something as the Tips jockey for a playoff spot.
Is Simpson prepared to extend his streak to 27?
"Might as well, if I'm called upon," Simpson said with a grin. "This is a fun time of year, this is where every game matters, every point matters. This is why you play hockey, for these games, so it's exciting."
Check out Nick Patterson's Silvertips blog at http://www.heraldnet.com/silvertipsblog, and follow him on Twitter at NickHPatterson.
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