Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Losing Jack

I don't know why this happens just as one of our own starts to get a little recognition and turning heads, the fates whack him in the head.

For Jack Hillen, the whack in the head was a mighty slap shot off Alexander Ovechkin's stick. It was accidental, as these things usually are. A fluke. Just being in the wrong place at the wrong time. The wrong place was right in front of Roloson's crease. In a split second, the startling progress of the youngster from Minnetonka, MN (Yep, the same as the famous moccasins.) was laying on the ice in a pool of blood.

I couldn't tell how bad it was at first. Everyone crowded around him. I strained to look at the camera feed on the NHL stat guys' monitor. All I kept saying was "Oh my God. Jack." I was hoping he would just get up and shake it off. But while they waited for the medical staff, the stats guys ran the TiVo over and over and over again to see exactly what happened. Was it tipped? Was it a stick? Where did it hit? Over and over again.

The truth is, it's amazing that a human skull doesn't just explode when being hit with a frozen piece of rubber travelling at that speed and velocity. Jack took a moment to fall to his knees which is why it was difficult to discern what had happened.

Jack refused the gurney and opted to be helped out by the training and medical staff with a towel on his bloody face. The crowd applauded. I felt sick.

The task of cleaning up the aftermath left is not an easy one. It seems there isn't any chemical that they can use to just bleach out the red stain left on the ice. They did they best they could, but the red stain was still visible and a sad reminder as the Capitals scored -- again.

The biggest problem with being in the press room and not being high enough on the food chain to have anyone tell you what's happening is not hearing the on air guys. I didn't know Jack had been taken to the hospital. I looked for him on the bench when the next period started. I found out via Twitter that he had been taken for evaluation. I find everything out now via Twitter.

But I wasn't finding out anything quite fast enough. When we left the coliseum last night, we were told that the text message about Hillen's condition would come out as soon as the information was known. I went to bed around 1 am, there was no text message. I shut off my phone.

I woke at 6 am and turned it back on. No text message. I check the Islanders Authorized website. Nothing. I waited until about 9 am before I sent a text of my own. "I know you were at the hospital with Jack. What's going on?" Silence.

I waited until 10:39, then I couldn't wait any longer. "OMG!! Is Jack in surgery or something? is there anything you can say? The silence is frightening!" This is not a situation where "no news is good news." That no news usually means there is horrific news.

10:55 am, the mass text message came over the phone with the report. It was a report I didn't want to read as it did have the word surgery in it. Six to eight weeks isn't long -- if you're not a hockey player mid way through the season.

Yes, there is the Olympic break which will take up two of those eight weeks. But the calendar says Jack shouldn't be fully recovered until somewhere between the weeks of March 10th
and March 24th. Remember they said Sean Bergenheim would be out for two weeks? He was out for a month. Should he make a miraculous recovery, he'd be available for about two dozen games left of the regular season.

In February of 2004, Jeremy Roenick's jaw was shattered in a similar accident. He returned to play the final five regular season games with the Flyers. He lost eight pounds and had a four inch scar on his jawline. He kept the X-ray of his shattered jaw on his kitchen wall. But that's JR. This is Jack.

The loss of Hillen puts the Islanders in a bad way when it comes to their defense. A situation that has already been a problem. Martinek ended his season before it even started this year. Brendan Witt is hobbled. Dustin Kohn has been called up from Bridgeport. But when you look at the names on the roster under defense, it could certainly be better.

This latest injury will give Garth Snow pause to consider the phone calls he has been fielding all along. Perhaps the time is now to make a move before the Olympic roster freeze that leads straight into the trade deadline.

Tough decisions facing a team that is in a tough spot when it comes to points. I'm just glad I'm not the one responsible for making any of them.

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