When Riley Simpson decided to return home this year after two seasons with the Ohio State University Buckeyes, he wasn’t sure he would be playing competitive hockey.
So when RDC Kings head coach Trevor Keeper called he couldn’t have been more excited.
“I wasn’t sure I would be eligible after being at Ohio State for two years, but Keeper called my dad and talked with me about the opportunity and it’s been great,” said the 19-year-old from Innisfail.
Simpson played minor hockey in Innisfail until second year bantam when he joined the Red Deer bantam Rebels program. He played as a 15-year-old in the Red Deer minor midget AAA program and then joined the Brooks Bandits of the Alberta Junior Hockey League.
He had two solid seasons with the Bandits, scoring 16 goals and adding 18 assists in his first season then picked up 35 goals and 41 helpers in 59 games his second year.
He was recruited by OSU and moved to Columbus, Ohio, as a 17-year-old.
His first year was tough as he suffered a vocal cord injury, which forced him to miss all but two games.
“I had trouble breathing . . . it was scary,” he said. “But the second year I played a lot.”
He played 34 games, scoring three times and adding two assists.
“I played on what would be the third line and killed a lot of penalties,” he said.
Simpson didn’t have anything negative to say about the OSU program, but felt it was time to return home.
“I was away since I was 15 and first went to Brooks, so I just wanted to be back home with my friends and family. It’s worked out perfectly.”
Although he went to the States at an early age, he didn’t regret it.
“Another year of junior wouldn’t have hurt, but it was a good experience. I enjoyed it. The two years there helped me a lot.
“It was certainly different than Brooks. In Brooks I played power play, but didn’t kill penalties. At Ohio State I killed penalties, which will help here as I can do that if they want or be on the power play.”
Keeper is just happy to have the five-foot-eight, 165-pound forward on the roster.
“He’s a gifted player, who had close to 80 points in less than 60 games one year in junior and played NCAA when he was 17. He played a high level and will certainly add to our program.”
Simpson played both exhibition games against SAIT last weekend and doesn’t see a lot of difference between the Alberta Colleges Men’s Hockey League and the NCAA.
“The game down there is a little more structured . . . maybe more defensive, plus they wear cages, while we have visors, which I like” he said.
Although he’s not big, he isn’t one to back down from the physical play.
“I like taking a hit, or giving a hit early in the game as it gets me into it,” said Simpson, who expects to be in the lineup Thursday when the Kings host the University of Alberta, Augustana Vikings from Camrose at 7:30 p.m. at the Penhold Regional Multiplex.
The Kings will also play in the SAIT tournament, facing Thompson Rivers University of Kamloops at 5 p.m. Friday and Simon Fraser University at 3 p.m. Saturday.
The exhibition games are just what the Kings need as Keeper put together a new roster after RDC was away from men’s hockey for a decade.
“It takes time to get the chemistry, but we’ve been together for a couple of weeks and we’re starting to jell,” said Simpson, who is taking electrical engineering and will be at RDC for three years.
Keeper also likes what he sees from his troops.
“We had a few defensive breakdowns in our second game against SAIT (a 5-2 loss), but that’s something we’ll work on this week.
“We haven’t had a chance to do that yet. So once the guys get that down, hopefully we won’t be giving up as many shots.”
l The Kings will host the annual Challenge Cup volleyball tournament this week with four ACAC teams against four PacWest teams. The Kings face College of The Rockies from Cranbrook Thursday at 8 p.m. and defending PacWest champion Capilano College of North Vancouver Friday at 8 p.m. They meet Vancouver Island University of Nanaimo at 1 p.m. and Douglas College of New Westminster at 8 p.m. Saturday.
The other ACAC teams are SAIT, Briercrest, who will host the Canadian finals this season, and Medicine Hat. The conference with the most wins will win the tournament.
l The soccer teams are on the road Saturday as they visit Lakeland College in Lloydminster.
The Kings go in ranked 15th in the nation.
l The hockey Queens play Friday at 7:30 p.m. at Winsport in Calgary against Team Alberta of the Canadian Women’s Hockey League.
l The cross-country running team will be at SAIT Saturday with the golf team at the ACAC South Regional in Lethbridge Saturday and Sunday. The Kings golf team is ranked ninth in Canada.
l Kyle Morrison, who won the ACAC North Regional men’s golf title, was named the Boston Pizza RDC male athlete of the week.
Soccer midfielder Nicole Silveira of Calgary, who was strong in a 1-1 tie with SAIT and a 1-0 win over her former team, Olds, received the top female award.