Oft injured defenseman Jack Hillen has announced his retirement.
An undersized rearguard at 5'10" and 190 pounds, Hillen played 304 NHL games with the New York Islanders, Nashville Predators, Washington Capitals and Carolina Hurricanes. He scored 13 goals and 58 assists for 71 points in his career.
The Minnetonka, Minnesota, native played with Colorado College (earning a degree in economics), winning two Western Collegiate Hockey Association regular-season titles. In 2008 he was an All American and the WCHA Defensive Player of the Year that season.
Hillen was an undrafted player who signed with the Islanders in 2008. In 2010 he would infamously take an Alexander Ovechkin slap shot to the face. Can you say ouch? Hillen couldn't. He was immediately taken to the hospital where he had surgery to repair his badly broken jaw and damaged teeth. He would miss six weeks of action.
Ovechkin and Hillen would run into each other again in 2013. Literally. And they were even teammates at the time, as Hillen signed with the Caps in 2012. The locomotive named Ovie ran over Hillen, leaving him unconscious. It was Hillen's second major injury of the season, as he missed most of that season with a badly injured leg.
In the 2014-15 season Hillen, who had an expiring contract, was traded to Carolina for Tim Gleason. It was an opportunity for Hillen to get some ice time and perhaps show more of what he could for a future NHL contract somewhere if not in Carolina.
But it was tough on Hillen and, more so, for his pregnant wife.
“I’m not a negative person, so if I lived life like that, looking at negatives, then it’d be a pretty sad life,” Hillen said. “Yeah, once the disappointment wore off of being told you’re traded, I was disappointed, yeah, but that shock kind of wore off, you look at the positives and see this is an opportunity for me, you’ve got to look at the bright side. You’ve got to look at the positives. Even when I was sitting out at the start of the year, I had to look at the positives. Life’s too short to be down and negative about it. It’s an opportunity for me to play and have fun playing.”
“They have to do what they have to do,” Hillen said. “I don’t feel ill-will toward anybody. I’m blessed. I told you earlier in the year, I’ve got first-world problems, and I’ll say it again. This is nothing. No ill-will toward anybody. I wish them the best of luck. I want them to do well. No animosity toward anybody. Life is good, that’s for sure.”
Hillen's injury history and lack of size scared off teams from giving him another chance. He announced his retirement on December 30th, 2015 after sitting out the season unsigned.
Hillen has been in Minnesota, acting as a volunteer coach at his old high school, while helping to raise his three young sons.