[All this talk of Matt Gilroy and Tyler Bozak and this year’s hot collegiate free agents made me want to track down Jack Hillen. A year ago, the Islanders signed the defenseman immediately after his college career at Colorado ended. He took part in one practice and played the final two games of the NHL season, both against the New York Rangers].
One day you were in college and the next you were in the NHL, and a lot of people could not believe how poised you were.
To be honest with you, I don’t think I really took the time to think about how momentous it was. If I did, it probably would have been a different story.
Any advice to college players like Gilroy and Bozak, who could make the jump in the next week?
Nothing from my two games with the Islanders at the end of last season, but I definitely learned a lot this year. My message to any player going from college to the pros would be to remember how fun the game is.
At the start of this season, I spent way too much time thinking about this as my profession and worrying about whether I’d have a job at the NHL level and icetime and everything else. For a short time, it wasn’t fun. My experience in Bridgey was a blast. I started getting back to why I love the game so much. I’ve kept that attitude ever since and I plan on keeping it that way. You play a lot better when you’re approaching it with passion and fun and not worrying about things out of your control.
In your four years at Colorado College you played 30, 42, 38 and 41 games. This season you’ll play more than 70 in the regular season and more when you rejoin the Sound Tigers for the playoffs. Yet you don’t seem to be wearing down. What’s the secret?
I think the issue of games played can be a bit overrated. I didn’t find the transition so rough. In college you play fewer games, but you’re on the ice just as much. We practiced Monday-Thursday and played Friday and Saturday. I think if you polled any hockey player, they’d tell you they’ll take a game over a practice any time.
What was the best advice you got when you came into the NHL?
Billy Guerin said to me, “Kid, listen to your body. If you’re tired, sleep.”
What was a typical practice week at Colorado?
You practice all week for two games on Friday and Saturday. Monday was kind of a flow day, getting back after your one day off on Sunday. Tuesday was the hardest practice of the week. They could last for more than two hours and be intense from start to finish. Wednesday was all about systems and Thursday was special teams. On Monday and Wednesday, we lifted after practice.
An NHLer was telling me the other day about learning to get used to all the downtime. How is it different than college?
In college you don’t have any. It’s class and hockey. In the pros, the key is finding things to do after practice on non-game days. When we have weeks like last week without a game between Sunday in Chicago and Thursday at home, you can go a little crazy. You have to find a hobby.
Guitar. I picked it up about a year ago and I’m glad I did. It’s perfect for all the down time. I play constantly.
If the Islanders had a talent show or made you perform as part of some rookie hazing, what’s the one song you’d play?
I don’t play for anybody but myself. And I don’t sing. My fiancee suggests I move into another room the moment I start playing. I play Dave Matthews the most, but if I was forced to do a song, it would probably be something by Collective Soul. Maybe “Shine.”