Defenseman gets deal and baby and scores a goal
The whirlwind has yet to stop for Capitals defenseman Jack Hillen.
He spent the fall and holiday season home with his pregnant wife, Caitlin, and 2-year-old son, Finn, but shortly after New Year's Day he was summoned to Washington as the NHL lockout ended.
The family stayed behind in his native Minnesota, making for some lonely nights after a shoulder injury on opening night in Tampa Bay knocked Hillen from the lineup for seven weeks.
|Hurricanes at Capitals|
|When » Thursday, 7 p.m.|
|Where » Verizon Center|
|TV » CSN|
|» Before a March 14 game between the Capitals and Hurricanes in Raleigh, Carolina led Washington by 10 points in the Southeast Division title chase. Including that day -- a dramatic 3-2 comeback win for the Caps -- the Hurricanes have gone 1-12-1 since and now trail them by 10 points in the division race.|
|» Caps coach Adam Oates said forward Brooks Laich saw a specialist Tuesday for a lingering groin issue and will receive a second opinion later in the week. Martin Erat, who suffered a knee injury Saturday against Florida, skated during Wednesday's optional skate but is questionable to play against Carolina.|
|» Forward Joel Ward, injured after blocking a shot Sunday against Tampa Bay, didn't skate and is likely to miss his second game in a row.|
He finally returned March 16 and quickly established himself as a top-four defenseman, partnering with John Carlson. All the while Caitlin's pregnancy progressed -- too quickly, it turned out. She went into labor 11 days early Saturday while Hillen prepared for a game unaware in Florida. By the time the contest ended that night, he had a second child -- a boy named Knox. Team services manager Ian Anderson broke the news to a shocked Hillen afterward.
"It's just been crazy. Trying to get some sleep now," Hillen said earlier this week.
Good luck. Washington plays Thursday against the Carolina Hurricanes and Saturday against the Tampa Bay Lightning. The Caps just played Tuesday in Montreal and had an optional practice Wednesday. Hillen won't see his new son until Sunday when he flies back home for a brief visit. He will return in time for Tuesday's game against Toronto at Verizon Center. Caitlin and Knox returned home from the hospital Monday, and Hillen has talked to them via FaceTime on his computer. But that's not the same as holding your baby boy. It will be a long 48 hours more before that special moment happens.
It all has made for an exhausting few days, but Hillen says he's having a blast given the team's recent run of success. The Caps enter Thursday's game two points ahead of Winnipeg for the Southeast Division lead and the No. 3 seed in the Eastern Conference playoff race with a game in hand.
It certainly has been a good month for Hillen, 27. He is waiting on a new home being built in Minnesota, staying on top of the contractor all winter. And he and his wife can pay for it now with a two-year contract extension worth $1.4 million. That was signed April 2.
Hillen, signed as a free agent last summer after leaving the Nashville Predators, is starting to contribute on the ice, too. He scored his first goal of the season Tuesday against the Canadiens, a shot from the point that floated past a screened Carey Price in goal. It was his first NHL goal since Dec. 6, 2011. He added an assist Tuesday and had two in Sunday's win over Tampa Bay and another the week before in an overtime loss at Philadelphia.
"Old school. It was great," Washington coach Adam Oates said of Hillen's dedication to his team. "We talked about when he can go home and see his family, and we appreciate him being here because we need him, and [it was] very unselfish. ... It's a tough business. It's part of it. Not everybody agrees with that, but I do."