A minimum of four days per week last summer, Wayne Simpson was on the ice at the Groton School, or over at the Nashoba Valley rink in his hometown of Boxborough, polishing his skills shooting the puck.
“I was also developing the mindset to shoot more,’’ said Simpson, a junior winger at Union College who was taking a cue from the program’s new coach, Rick Bennett.
The hard work paid off for both Simpson and Union, which has earned a spot in the NCAA Division 1 Frozen Four for the first time.
The Dutchmen (26-7-7), the regular season and tournament champion in the ECAC, face off against Ferris State (25-11-5), out of the Central Collegiate Hockey Association, Thursday afternoon in Tampa.
Skating the right wing on Union’s top line with senior center Kelly Zajac (8 goals, 34 assists) and sophomore left wing Matt Hatch (7 goals, 10 assists), Simpson has scored a career-high 18 goals, along with 13 assists, in 40 games. No goal was bigger than his late tally in the first round of the East Regional in Bridgeport, Conn., that put the finishing touch on Union’s 3-1 victory over Michigan State.
Union had gone on the power play with under 2 minutes to play. “We just couldn’t be defensive minded at that point and sit on the lead,’’ said the 5-foot-11, 190-pound Simpson, whose shot found the top corner to the far side for his ninth power-play goal of the season and 20th of his collegiate career, two shy of the school record. “That win definitely settled us down.’’
Bennett, a former Providence College star who served as associate head coach at Union, in Schenectady, N.Y., prior to his promotion, said Simpson’s play improved during the second half of the season.
“Wayne has one of the best shots in our league. His skill level and ability to make big plays at crucial times has really helped us,’’ said Bennett. “And he’s a calming influence on our team, which is respected by our staff.’’
A standout for Lawrence Academy in Groton, Simpson said Union’s successful run to the Frozen Four - including its 4-2 win over University of Massachusetts Lowell in the East Regional final - has proven that the Dutchmen belong on college hockey’s biggest stage.
“We have the ability to play with anyone, and we’ve picked up our play at just the right time,’’ said Simpson. “We’ve made great strides for our program.’’
Simpson’s brother, John, who graduated from Union last year, was his linemate last season. Their sister, Brooke, is a freshman on the Providence College women’s team that reached the championship game of the Hockey East tournament.
Their father, Dr. Stephen Simpson, an orthopedic surgeon who coached his sons for many years in youth hockey, played for Jack Parker at Boston University after two seasons at Air Force. And their grandfather, John Simpson, was the athletic director at BU from 1975 to ’84. A founder of the Hockey East Conference, he was inducted into BU’s athletic hall of fame in 2000.
The entire Simpson clan and their Florida relatives will be in the stands in Tampa.
Belmont resident Ben Levy, a sophomore at Bates College, ran the second leg for the Bobcats’ distance medley relay team that took third place at the NCAA Division 3 indoor championships. Levy and his teammates earned the program’s first All-America honor in the event.
Levy, a second-place finisher for Belmont High in the 400 at the 2010 Eastern Mass. Division 2 championships, was the only freshman on the 4x100 relay unit that took second place at the NESCAC outdoor championships last spring.
“We knew we were getting a good one in Ben,’’ said Bates coach Al Fereshetian, who noted that Levy’s 50.11 in the 400 is the program’s fourth-best time.
“He put a lot of work in over the fall, was ill briefly, then came back to give us some great legs in our qualifying efforts, which really energized him and our team. He’s developing as one of our key leaders, and he has the versatility to run individually, in relays and several distances.’’
Jeanette Duvall served the Needham Youth Hockey Association for 30 years, highlighted by a 23-year run as president from 1988-2011. In 2001, the association was named the Massachusetts Hockey Program of the Year.
In November, she was inducted into the Massachusetts Hockey Hall of Fame. Recently, she was honored at Needham Youth Hockey’s annual coaches’ appreciation night.
In ceremonies at the Village Club, asociation president Mike Canavan praised Duvall for her “love for the kids and the game, combined with her tireless effort to improve Needham Youth Hockey. Literally thousands of young players have benefited from Jeanette’s efforts.’’
Duvall was originally publicity coordinator for Frank Bell, Needham Youth Hockey’s founder and first director. Duvall’s husband, Harry, coached in the program for 45 years.
“Frank and Harry skated on state championship teams at Needham High,’’ recalled Duvall. “Harry’s brother Howie was a member of Needham’s 1966 state championship team, and my nephew, Steve Dagdigian, played for the 1969 and 1970 Needham High champions.
“I was always surrounded by people who played the game I loved,’’ said Duvall.
“It was an honor to be remembered, a privilege to be a part of Needham Youth Hockey, and a blast to reconnect with coaches and friends,’’ she said. “And the Hall of Fame honor was emotional for me when many of the inductees shared what their hometown program meant to them as kids.’’
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