Photo credit: Patrick McDermott
At 7:30 PM, Jack Hillen was stepping onto the ice at an arena just outside Miami. He had chatted with his wife Caitlin, nine months pregnant with their second child, four hours earlier. She was doing well as the couple prepared for the birth of their second child, due on April 17. It was a pedestrian game for the 27-year-old defensemen, playing just under 17 minutes. He was on the ice for one goal in the Washington’s 4-3 win over the Panthers. Outside the visitor’s locker room at BB&T Center, though, Hillen got some news.
“Congratulations, you had a son,” Team Services Manager Ian Anderson told him.
“Oh, you mean she’s in labor?” Hillen responded.
“No, you had a son,” Anderson said.
“That came quickly,” replied Hillen.
“I didn’t know,” Hillen said Sunday night as he stood in front of Alex Ovechkin’s locker at Verizon Center. “I didn’t know.
“What can I say?” he continued. “Everything was fine. I had no idea. It was just a normal day.”
This season, to be trite, has been up-and-down for Hillen. Just minutes into the team’s first game, Hillen was shoved hard into the boards, injuring his shoulder. He didn’t return to the lineup for almost two months and when he did, he was part of a much changed Capitals blueline. Recently, however, Hillen has played great: he’s shutting down the opponent’s stars, getting time on the power play, and picking up points. Five days ago, he signed a two-year extension with the Capitals.
In the span of 26 hours this weekend, Hillen had a child, played a hockey game, played another hockey game, assisted on a goal, fell down, and assisted on another goal. What did you accomplish on your days off?
One thing Hillen didn’t do, however, was sleep well.
“A lot going on, a lot going on,” Hillen said. “I’m blessed.”
“I just need to get some sleep,” he added.
Saturday, Hillen’s night didn’t end until a few hours before sun up. The Capitals didn’t get back from Florida until the early hours of the morning and while his teammates went off to their beds, Hillen had some things to attend to: like seeing his son Knox for the first time. The problem was Hillen’s wife isn’t in Washington. With Hillen coming to the Caps on a one-year deal this offseason, she decided to stay in Minnesota with his parents.
“At 3:30 in the morning last night, she wasn’t sleeping so I sent her a text,” Hillen said. “We FaceTimed.”
This is Hillen’s second child, and the second birth he’s experienced in season. While with the New York Islanders in 2010, his first son Finn was born the day before an 11-day road trip.
If you’re wondering why the Hillens give their kids such weird names, it’s more than just a hockey player thing (i.e. Gunnar and Lennon Hendricks). Hillen explained that his family is really freaking big — “60, 70, I can’t even tell ya” — and he and his wife wanted their children to have names that stuck out.
“We didn’t want to name our kids after anybody,” said Hillen. “We just thought they were interesting.”
For all their millions and glorification, hockey players are still people, ones with jobs that sometimes require them to move across the continent every few years. They spend weeks at a time traveling, leaving their families at home or in back at their offseason residence. It’s a charmed life, but not without its hardships.
“It’s a tough business,” Adam Oates said. “That’s part of it. Not everybody agrees with that, but I do.”
“It sucks,” Hillen added. “I just want to hold them but I can’t.”