Mac Carruth and Kent Simpson sat out the first scrimmage of Blackhawks Prospect Camp on Wednesday, watching from the sidelines as skaters combined for eight goals. Thursday, the two goaltending prospects took the ice on the same team, splitting the 60-minute contest down the middle.
Simpson, the Blackhawks’ second-round draft choice in 2010, was the first one in between the pipes for Team White, and found he needed to fight off a bit of rust.
“It was a lot of fun to be in a game situation again,” Simpson says. “I started out feeling almost panicked, but then I got right into it and felt good. It’s the middle of the summer, so you’re not going to be in top ice form. My goals coming in [to camp] were to get better every day, and I think I’ve been on track with that.”
Simpson faced a slew of tough shots in the opening frame, including several strong efforts against skilled players such as first-round draftees Mark McNeill and Teuvo Teravainen, but kept a clean sheet. So far, so good for Simpson, who says he’s feeling better than ever, thanks to a season of sustained health.
“The last two summers I was down with injuries, and that makes it tough to come into a season not having a summer,” he says. “This summer’s huge for me, just being healthy and being in the gym every day, getting in the work I know I need.”
Simpson, 20, finished his third season in the Western Hockey League with 60 starts for Everett, logging a 20-31-2-5 record, a 3.33 goals-allowed average and a .909 save percentage before the Silvertips were swept out of the first round of the playoffs. He then sojourned to Rockford, where he made his first professional appearance in the IceHogs’ season closer on April 14, a 38-save shootout loss.
Simpson says he hopes to take up residence in the pro ranks this October, but he’ll face stiff competition in Prospect Camp roommate Carruth, who relieved Simpson in net halfway through Thursday’s scrimmage. Never have the two goalie prospects been more closely scrutinized side-by-side by Blackhawks brass, in anticipation of the inevitable merge of their career trajectories.
First, the parallels: Carruth was drafted five rounds after Simpson in 2010, and practiced his craft 200 miles down the coast from Everett, in Portland, Ore. Both netminders signed entry-level deals with the Blackhawks in late May, looking to make the leap to professional hockey. The 20-year-old Carruth also just completed his third season, one that ended a single game shy of the WHL championship. His 63 appearances and 42 wins were all junior career highs, and he led the league with two shutouts and 718 saves in the Winterhawks’ postseason run.
With a workhorse season in the books, Carruth’s focus coming into camp was mainly mental, a resolve that was tested when he took his place between the pipes with no warmup.
“Going in cold, it was a bit different than what I’m used to,” Carruth says. “That’s part of what they want to see. For me, it’s about being able to get mentally tough right away, to focus on the game and stay calm.”
Carruth faced another unique situation when the game ended in a 3-3 tie: the rare Prospect Camp shootout. In the fifth round, free agent invitee Daniel Carr slipped the puck behind Carruth for the eventual winning conversion.
Another scrimmage in the books, and one of the final experiences for Carruth and Simpson, who are practically veterans in the Blackhawks Prospect Camp locker room. Their attention is now on fine-tuning their skills and working their way from the WHL to the professional leagues.
Carruth’s goal? “Gaining weight so I can fill up more net, and maturing my game: reading plays better, moving the puck better behind the net, stuff like that.”
Simpson adds, “At every level, it’s getting quicker, so I’m just trying to get my feet set quicker and beating the pass, waiting for the shot to come to me rather than catching up to the puck.”
A goaltender’s work doesn’t cease when the pucks stop flying, and close on the horizon is Blackhawks training camp in September, where the next competition begins.
“We’re friends, and it goes without saying that we’re both pretty competitive people,” Carruth says. “We both know it’s a business, and when it comes down to it, either of us will do whatever it takes to get that spot.”