InGoal Magazine Staff | Dec 20, 2018 | 0
Ducks’ Hiller Nervous, Not Rusty, After Six Months Between Games
Jonas Hiller couldn’t remember the last time he was as nervous about playing a game of hockey.
After missing six months with vertigo Hiller’s anxiety was understandable.
“Maybe my first game in the NHL,” Hiller said with a wide smile after stopping all 21 shots he faced during two periods of a 4-1 Anaheim win in Vancouver Saturday night – his first game since March 24. “It’s definitely been a while and I was actually a bit nervous because it has been such a long time since I played a real game.”
It sure didn’t look like it.
Included in Hiller’s perfect night against an admittedly overmatched Canucks squad better suited – and mostly destined – for the American League were a handful of highlight reel saves. Before giving way to third-stringer Jeff Deslauriers to start the third period, Hiller threw out his right pad to rob Cody Hodgson from the slot, his left to take a tap-in away from Victor Oreskovich late in the first period, and robbed Maxim Lapierre from close range using both his blocker and glove in the second.
“For the first game I felt really good out there,” said Hiller, who seemed more comfortable in his crease as the game went on. “I felt I made some good saves. It’s definitely something I can build on.”
Hiller, named the game’s first star, had to wait a long time for his foundation to settle underneath him.
Anaheim’s top stopper was earning accolades as a Vezina Trophy favorite before taking a couple of shots off the mask at last year’s NHL All-Star Game. He began to experience dizziness later that week, but tried a couple of times to come back amid varying diagnosis, and even pitched a shutout before the symptoms persisted. The Ducks’ best player was forced to watch the playoffs from the sidelines.
Hiller returned to Switzerland and took an entire month off to vacation. It wasn’t until returning to the ice in mid-July at the annual Swiss goalie camp run by Toronto goaltending guru Francois Allaire that Hiller began to feel like himself again.
“It felt right away a lot better then when I left Anaheim after the season and it gave me confidence and just got better day by day,” Hiller, 29, said. “I thought it was perfect, just doing goalie drills and knowing what was happening and work on my technique.”
The bigger test would come in early August, when Hiller began working out with the Swiss league team in Bern. That meant scrimmaging, which had caused him problems back in Anaheim because he wasn’t able to focus on the puck with so much else going on around him.
This time there were no problems, but Hiller was admittedly still nervous about his first real NHL action. As for pulling the chute on it prematurely, he said it was his choice to leave after the second period, but happily reported it was because of tight hips, not his head.
“I didn’t want to stretch or pull something,” said Hiller. “I didn’t want to overdo it in my first game. I’m too excited for the next one.”
After going six months without – and wondering at times if he might never get another – it’s easy to understand Hiller’s joy.