May 29, 2014
Notre Dame, Ind. -
While most of the hockey postseason attention is directed at the Stanley Cup playoffs and the current semifinal series between Chicago and Los Angeles and Montreal and New York, two former Irish hockey players remain in action in their respective leagues.
Leading the way is former Irish standout Ben Simon `00 who is in his first season as the head coach of the East Coast Hockey League's (ECHL) Cincinnati Cyclones. The rookie bench boss has guided his Cincinnati squad to the Kelly Cup finals versus the Alaska Aces with game one of the championship series set for Friday, May 30 in Anchorage, Alaska.
To get to the Kelly Cup finals, Simon guided the Cyclones to a second-place finish in the ECHL's North Conference in the Eastern Division with a 41-23-4-4 record, good for 90 points, just two points behind conference leader, Kalamazoo.
In the playoffs, Cincinnati defeated the Orlando Solar Bears, four games to two in the opening round and then knocked off the Ft. Wayne Komets by an identical four games to two margin in the quarterfinals. In the Eastern Conference finals, the Cyclones downed the Greenville Road Warriors, four games to two, with three of the games decided in overtime.
Simon's squad will play the first three games of the series in Anchorage on May 30, May 31 and June 2. The best-of-seven series returns to Cincinnati of games four through six, June 6, June 7 and June 9. The seventh game if necessary will return to Anchorage on June 11.
For anyone who has followed Simon's post-Notre Dame career, winning championships are something that the Shaker Heights, Ohio native is very familiar with. During his playing/coaching career, he has been part of three championship teams.
Originally drafted by the Chicago Blackhawks in the fifth round, 110th overall in the 1997 NHL Entry Draft, Simon saw his rights traded to the Atlanta Thrashers before graduating from Notre Dame. His first professional stop was with the International Hockey League's Orlando Solar Bears where he helped them to the 2001 Turner Cup title.
A year later, Simon played in the American Hockey League with the Chicago Wolves and helped that Thrasher affiliate win the AHL's Calder Cup championship.
During his 11-year pro career, the former Irish captain played parts of four seasons in the National Hockey League with the Thrashers and the Columbus Blue Jackets, seeing action in 81 games with three goals and one assist for four points.
He finished his playing career in 2010-11 with the Sheffield Steelers of the United Kingdom's Elite Ice Hockey League, leading that team to the 2011 league championship as a player-coach while notching 27 goals and 39 assists for 62 points.
Simon continued his coaching career in the AHL with the Blackhawks affiliate - the Rockford Ice Hogs - spending two season (2011-13) as an assistant coach before taking over as the head coach of the Cyclones on July 25, 2013.
In four seasons at Notre Dame, Simon played in 144 games, scoring 44 goals with 86 assists for 130 points. That ranks him 25th on the all-time points list for the Irish.
Joining Simon among former Irish players still playing for a championship is recent graduate, Bryan Rust (Novi, Mich.), who is still on the reserve roster for the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins as they battle for the Calder Cup title in the American Hockey League. Rust's Penguins currently trail St. John's two games to one in the best-of-seven semifinals. The 5-11, 199-pound right wing has played in one playoff game to date, having joined Wilkes-Barre/Scranton following the end of Notre Dame's season on April 1. He saw action in two regular-season games with the Penguins this spring.
Rust finished second on the Irish in scoring this past season with 17 goals and 16 assists for 33 points in 40 games.