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Hiller Time

After years of patiently waiting for his time, Jonas Hiller has developed into a force in net for the Ducks

Wednesday, 12.24.2008 / 1:09 PM / Features
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Hiller Time
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By Adam Brady

To really know Jonas Hiller, you have to look back a bit.

You go back just a year ago, when he was a timid rookie living in the United States for the first time, spending his nights in a hotel room across the street from Honda Center with little idea of how to get around town.

Along being named one of the NHL's "Three Stars" of the Week in the final week of November, Jonas Hiller tied a Ducks record with 51 saves in a 3-2 shootout victory at Edmonton on Dec. 19.
Or you flash back even further, when Hiller was a teenager in his native Switzerland, a three-year backup goalie who saw little ice time and even his own parents were loudly wondering if he was wasting his time.

It’s all a far cry from the Jonas Hiller of today, the guy who in just his second NHL season has grown into an imposing presence in net for the Anaheim Ducks and has pushed longtime No. 1 goalie J.S. Giguere for the starting spot. Thanks to a blazing first two months of the season, Hiller’s goals-against average and save percentage both ranked in the top five in the league. And during the final week of November, when he went 2-0-0 with an eye-popping 0.50 goals against and .984 save percentage, he was named one of the NHL’s “Three Stars” of the week.

The Swiss 26-year-old (whose first name is pronounced “YO-nas”) pretty much picked up where he left off in the last few months of his rookie season, when he won six of his final nine appearances and saved just under 95 percent of the shots fired at him. But he got to that level after overcoming a shaky start while becoming accustomed to both the NHL game and living on his own in the United States for the first time.

“Last year was tough because living here is quite a bit different,” says the shaggy-haired Hiller. “I came here and didn’t know anybody. I had no clue on how to get around and I was living in a hotel almost until Christmas. Everything is so much bigger here and if you don’t have a car you can’t get anywhere, so I was pretty much stuck. I could walk across the street to the rink and that was about it.”

And it was in that rink that Hiller struggled with the adjustment to the faster and more furious NHL game. “There's a lot more traffic in front of the net and the shots come a lot harder than in Switzerland,” Hiller says. “It’s obviously more of an adjustment for a skater than a goalie, but it still took some getting used to.”

“My parents asked, ‘Do you really want to do that your whole life?’” Hiller remembers. “For sure, I was thinking about that, but I also felt like I was getting closer to being a No. 1 goalie and I just needed a chance to play. I finally got that.”
Even though he won his first start, giving up just one goal in a 4-1 victory over the Kings on Sept. 30 in London, Hiller was shipped to the Ducks’ AHL affiliate in Portland when Giguere returned from an early-season injury. He was brought back to Anaheim after the Ducks saw enough potential in him to let previous backup Ilya Bryzgalov go to Phoenix via waivers.

Hiller was patchy in his first few NHL games, but his comfort level grew the more he was able to get on the ice and get used to his living situation. He eventually moved from the hotel to an apartment in Newport Beach, got himself a car and figured out a few things, like where to buy groceries.

“It makes a big difference and makes it easier to come here every day,” Hiller says. “You don’t have to think about those other things. I’m much more comfortable here and I’m much more comfortable during the games. Goaltending is a lot about experience, and I feel like I’ve made good progress.”

The Ducks rewarded that progress with a contract extension last summer that pays Hiller more than $1 million this season and next. And one of the first people he called when he signed his name on the dotted line were his parents back in Switzlerland, who about six years ago suggested maybe he should quit the game and try something else.

And who could blame them? For three straight years starting when he was 18, Hiller was nothing more than a backup for his private school team in the ski resort town of Davos. He saw little time on the ice, and says his parents “rarely saw me play at that level. So they asked, “Do you really want to do that your whole life?’”

Hiller’s mother was a longtime basketball standout who played for the Swiss national team, so she was well aware of the pitfalls of dedicating your life to a game. “She knew sports were not an easy business,” Hiller says. “She would say things like, ‘Don’t you want to play in a lower league and get into more games?’ For sure, I was thinking about that, but I also felt like I was getting closer to being a No. 1 goalie and I just needed a chance to play. I finally got that.”

As a 21-year-old, Hiller was moved for the 2003-04 season to a team called Lausanne HC, where he appeared in 21 games. When he went back to his HC Davos team a year later, he became the starter and was in net for at least 43 games in each of the next three seasons. Not only that, but he carried Davos to the Spengler Cup title in 2005 and was named the league’s top goalie.

“I learned that you have to have patience in this game, especially as a goalie,” Hiller says. “You have to wait for that chance.”
Anaheim scouts were among those who took notice, and the Ducks snatched him up last spring, a payoff to Hiller for all those years of knowing he was good enough, but just needed the opportunity to show it.

“I learned that you have to have patience in this game, especially as a goalie,”
 Hiller now says. “You have to wait for that chance.”

Mom flew out to London to see Hiller play for the first time in an NHL game, and she’s coming out to California for a couple of weeks later this season. His father came to see him play during a stretch in Orange County last season.

“My parents have always been supportive, but they did worry about me,” Hiller says. “And their opinion always mattered to me. They’re very proud now.”

 Not that Hiller didn’t have a backup plan if life as a goalie didn’t work out. He considers himself a bit of a fix-it guy and still spends each of his summers back home working on cars in a friend’s body shop. For as long as he can remember, he’s tended to his teammates’ computer problems, and earlier this season he even helped the Ducks trainers put together some new massage tables.

“I have a lot of different interests,” Hiller says. “I just like to do things with my hands and I think I’ve gotten pretty good with it. As a goalie, you’re usually just reacting and you never get to put in your own thoughts or any creativity. These kinds of things give me a chance to be creative on my own, do something different and also build something.

“I think about doing those kinds of things after hockey. I’d be real happy to do something else if I don’t stay in hockey.”

That doesn’t look like it will happen anytime soon. Hiller’s even looked good in the rare times he’s lost this year, notably in a shootout defeat on Halloween night at home against Vancouver. Hiller, who entered that game in the second period, fought through a marathon 13 shootout rounds before finally giving up the clinching goal. Still, you couldn’t wipe the smile off his face in the locker room as he talked to reporters about it. And that self-assured smile hasn’t really gone away since.

 “Goaltending is very mental and having confidence is a big part of the mental game,” Hiller says. “I’m happy with the way it’s going right now, but I’m working on my game every day and hoping to get better. I’m just trying to keep going, keep going, keep going.”




1 ANA 48 32 10 6 143 124 70
2 NSH 46 31 10 5 141 107 67
3 STL 46 29 13 4 148 111 62
4 CHI 48 30 16 2 151 112 62
5 WPG 49 26 15 8 138 122 60
6 SJS 48 25 17 6 131 132 56
7 VAN 46 26 17 3 124 118 55
8 CGY 48 26 19 3 140 126 55
9 LAK 48 21 15 12 133 129 54
10 COL 49 20 18 11 128 141 51
11 DAL 47 21 19 7 146 154 49
12 MIN 47 21 20 6 130 138 48
13 ARI 47 16 25 6 108 160 38
14 EDM 48 12 27 9 110 160 33


R. Getzlaf 47 15 35 13 50
C. Perry 33 19 12 16 31
R. Kesler 48 13 18 -1 31
S. Vatanen 48 10 20 5 30
M. Beleskey 47 18 7 13 25
C. Fowler 47 5 18 4 23
P. Maroon 40 5 18 2 23
H. Lindholm 47 5 15 14 20
J. Silfverberg 48 6 12 2 18
K. Palmieri 24 10 5 1 15
F. Andersen 27 6 5 .919 2.24
J. Gibson 2 2 0 .927 2.28 is the official Web site of the Anaheim Ducks. Anaheim Ducks and are trademarks of Anaheim Ducks Hockey Club, LLC. NHL, the NHL Shield, the word mark and image of the Stanley Cup and NHL Conference logos are registered trademarks of the National Hockey League. All NHL logos and marks and NHL team logos and marks as well as all other proprietary materials depicted herein are the property of the NHL and the respective NHL teams and may not be reproduced without the prior written consent of NHL Enterprises, L.P. Copyright © 1999-2015 Anaheim Ducks Hockey Club, LLC and the National Hockey League. All Rights Reserved.

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