The Long Road Back: Jack HillenPosted on September 13, 2013 by Mike Vogel
Most NHL players have reasonable commutes to work during the hockey season. But their commutes back to their NHL cities at the end of summer can be somewhat arduous. Few players remain in their NHL cities over the summer; most return to their homes at various points around the globe. For European players, it’s a long and sometimes uncomfortable flight back to the States for the start of the season. Most of those flights are over in less than 10 hours, though. Lots of players coming from western Canada face drives twice as long as those flights, and those drives generally take more than one day on the road.
This fall, we’re taking a look at some of those commutes back to D.C. Today, it’s Jack Hillen’s 1,100-mile journey from Minneapolis to the District. Hillen made the drive with his wife and two sons, aged two and a half and four months.
“It should have taken about 16 hours but I had a trailer on the back and I had to go a lot slower,” relates Hillen. “It took about 19. I have two kids and two dogs and then we packed up a trailer. I tried to only stop when my kids had to go to the bathroom. We probably stopped every couple hours, which also didn’t help the pace.
“I knew it was going to take a while so we just took our time and tried to stay positive and have my wife and I not kill each other on the road. We made it through pretty good. With two kids, it’s always challenging, especially when you’ve got a four-month-old screaming in the backseat.”
Traveling with an infant is always tough, no matter what mode you choose. Hillen’s older son handled the journey much better, with a stick tap to technology.
“He did really well,” says Hillen. “We had a TV and he’s actually better on the iPad than I am. You just give him the iPad and let him go to town.”
Hillen handled all of the driving chores himself.
“I did all of it,” he notes. “[My wife] would not feel comfortable with the trailer on the back. If we’re both in the car, I usually do all the driving.”
As is the case for most of us, finding healthy food options is challenging on the interstate.
“I try to eat as healthy as I can,” says Hillen, “but your options are pretty limited, especially going through Indiana and Ohio. You pretty much have just the rest stops there and there’s like a Hardee’s or something.
“One day of not eating great is not going to hurt you. That’s why I got down here 12 days early, just so I could make sure that I get into a routine of eating healthy again. You just stop, fill up with gas and grab some Hardee’s or whatever. That’s the only time I eat fast food. I haven’t had fast food since the last [driving] road trip.”
Any hopes Hillen might have had of enjoying some music during his lengthy drive were graciously deferred in the interest of keeping his oldest son happy.
“I listened to a lot of Bob The Builder because my kid was watching TV and the headphones don’t quite fit his little head yet,” Hillen says. “So I pretty much got stuck listening to movies the whole time.
“Sometimes you put those Disney movies on and it takes you back a little bit. But it can get a little painful listening to Bob The Builder for a couple hours and then switching over to Aladdin or something. But it is what it is. I just kind of zoned out and drove.”
The Hillen clan made it a bit more than halfway the first day, then tackled the rest of the trip. But even though there were fewer miles to be traveled on day two, the terrain made the drive a bit more delicate.
“We made it to just outside of Toledo [Ohio] and then drove the last nine hours the second day,” states Hillen. “But going through Pennsylvania and Maryland is tricky, especially with the trailer because there are so many hills. Actually going down the hills is scarier than going up because the trailer feels like it wants to pass you. You just have to be smart and take it slow.”
Hillen’s trailer was loaded with the family’s furniture. Having signed a two-year contract extension in April, the Caps defenseman moved his family into a house in the local area.
“It was either that or rent furniture,” declares Hillen, of his decision to haul the trailer. “I’ve rented furniture before staying at places and it’s no fun. Usually what you get for your money isn’t very good. So I decided to bring a bunch of furniture this time, and that’s why we had the trailer.”