My Hometown is a new running series in Ducks Off the Ice, in which players take some time to talk about where they grew up.
Our latest subject is Jonas Hiller:
Urnäsch is a municipality in the canton of Appenzell Ausserrhoden, located in Eastern Switzerland.
18 square miles
In 831 A.D. a part of Urnäsch known as Färchen
was first mentioned.
32° F and mostly cloudy
Hiller on his hometown
Funny thing is, in Switzerland, you have your birthplace and your place of origin. My birthplace is listed as Felben Wellhaussen, but I never lived there. I was born in Wattwil, but I grew up in a place called Urnäsch which is almost in the Alps, close to the German and Austria border. We moved there when I was 2 years old and I was there until I was 18.
Living in Urnäsch
It’s a really small village, but it was nice. It was really laid-back, and I loved growing up there because you could go outside in the greenery, or the woods were about a two-minute walk away. It would get quite cold in the winter, but in the summer, you had a lot of time in the afternoons to play soccer or do different stuff with friends after school. When I got into hockey, there were a few guys my age who joined the team too, and we always had a good group together, so the parents didn’t have to drive every single time. They were able to switch off a little bit.
Getting Into Hockey
I have pictures of me at 2 years old on the ice, but I really got into it when I was 5 or 6. That’s when I started going to organized practices. I started as a forward and a defenseman, but I was always amazed by the big equipment, so I wanted to become a goalie. But it wasn’t until I was 8 that I got into it, but my parents made sure I kept doing both so I could learn to skate and shoot. At around the age of 12, I didn’t really want to be a goalie anymore, but the team was looking for a goalie so I was like, Okay, I’ll do it for one more year. I kind of had a great year and I just thought, I’ll stick with it. I’ve been a goalie ever since.
My parents were both really into sports, not really into hockey at first but more into basketball. My mom was a teacher at the school, so even in the winter, we were able to go in the hall where they have sports classes and use them in the afternoon when nobody was at school. That was a little advantage I had there. She later became a principal and still does that. There was a printing factory that my dad used to work for, but he’s retired now. He still lives in the same house I grew up in, but my mom lives about 45 minutes away, close to where she grew up.
His Own Private Rink
We had a huge balcony, like a terrace, at our house – about 20 meters by 20 meters – and my dad would make an ice surface right on it, so I could go out and skate right at home. It was really fun. We would inline skate in the summer. Underneath there was an office space, and one year a particular guy moved in who wasn’t really happy because he could hear the noise up there all day [laughs]. So, that one year we had to stop playing hockey up there. There were other places to play street hockey and stuff like that.
Learning Foreign Languages
It has changed there a little bit, but when I was in school, you would have French and Italian classes starting in your third year, depending on where you lived. Those are the other spoken languages in Switzerland. Some schools, they start with English at that age and teach the French and Italian later. I learned French starting with the fourth grade probably all the way through to when I finished college. I started English in the seventh grade and continued in college, taking classes like three times a week. My spoken language is Swiss-German, which is different from High German because there is no grammar or written language. It’s just a German dialect. I learned French, which I used to be really fluent in because I played in the French part of Switzerland. And I speak a little bit of English [laughs].
Getting Back There
I try to go back there in the offseason. I have made a home in the summer in Bern, which is where my wife is from and we have friends there. It’s [three hours] away, so I don’t get to see my parents as much as I want to, but I try to get out there as often as I can and enjoy some time there.