*Photo by Webb.20 NYIC
I always enjoy talking to Jack Hillen because he really thinks about his answers and will even tell you he doesn’t have an answer when he doesn’t. He is one young man who has come a long way since his first days on Long Island.
Hillen came straight from Colorado College in April of 2008. To get his feet wet in the NHL, he played two of the final games of the '07-'08 season with the Islanders. He had one assist point, four penalty minutes and 3 shots on goal. He spent that summer learning the ropes of the Islanders community events and becoming familiar with his new home. I remember Jack being a little on the shy and quiet side. I was hoping that Long Island wouldn’t scare the life out of this youngster from Minnetonka, MN.
He played 33 games for Bridgeport and 40 for the Islanders the next season and though he ended the year as a -9, he was awarded a two year deal in July of 2009. Hillen has been impressive this season ending with 21 points in 69 games. (Although he ended as a -5.) That didn't seem to matter as even the Canadian media took notice this season. It wasn’t exactly a shock that Team USA tagged Hillen to join Kyle Okposo this May for the World Championships. It was more a pleasant surprise.
I asked Jack the same questions I asked the others on Monday, 4/12.
“I love watching the playoffs. It’s the best hockey outside of Olympic hockey. It’s really exciting. So I pay attention to it and I try to watch as manby games as I can.” He named “beautiful summer nights” and “golf” as possible playoff distractions and now he will have to add heading to Germany for a few weeks in May.
When I asked Jack what he felt his biggest accomplishment was this season, he was quick to answer.
“I think the way I played before the injury showed I could be a top 4 -- top 2 “D” man in this league I think that was important. After the injury, I think I showed I could over come some adversity. It wasn’t easy coming back, especially without my energy. So after the injury I was happy with that.”
Jack missed only nine games after suffering a broken jaw when a puck struck him in the face and shattered his jaw. It could have shattered his season as well. He returned to the ice quicker than expected, but as he said, it wasn’t easy. While the scar on his chin is still very fresh, he was lucky they didn't need to wire his jaw shut which assisted in his speedy recovery.
Hillen is an excellent skater, and yet that is what he said he’d be working on in the off season. The first time Assistant GM Ryan Jankowski asked me what I thought of Jack, that was the only thing that came to mind. "I love the way he skates." I told him. So when I asked what he would be working on this off-season, I was a little surprised.
“I always like to work on my skating. I feel like I have to keep my edge in that. But obviously, getting a shot through too. I looked at those stats just the other week and all the high point getting defensemen always have the most shots on net. So I was just looking, I probably had 80 shots this year (78 Jack), around there. If I could get that up to 120 - 150 shots, there’s more points out there to be had.”
Since I didn’t know that Jack was going to be tagged by Team USA, I asked him my “When do you get antsy for the season to start again” question.
“You know what -- the off season goes by so quickly and the regular season is so long, that you really don’t start getting geared up for it until you start going to your agent’s camp and skating and training religiously. So probably the end of August you start to get really geared up for it.“
I’m pretty sure Jack will have to do another tour of duty this summer for Community events, so I’ll check back with him about it then. Maybe he'll even have a medal with him then. Wouldn't THAT be nice?