Some day, Capitals defenseman Jack Hillen will look back on this month of April and remember how it changed his life for the better.
It started on April 2 when he agreed to a two-year, $1.4 million contract extension, the longest and most lucrative of his hockey career.
Four nights later, while the Caps were in Sunrise, Fla., playing the Panthers, his wife, Caitlin, gave birth to their second child, an infant boy named Knox Patrick. She called him from a Minnesota hospital with the news.
For the next seven days, Hillen remained with the Capitals, Skyping with his family and pining for the day he could hold his baby boy.
That opportunity came on Sunday when he caught a flight from Washington to Minnesota, arriving just in time for the 10 a.m. baptism of Knox Patrick.
“I got home at 8:30 and the baptism was at 10,” Hillen said Tuesday night after scoring his third goal in five games and helping the Caps win their eighth straight game. “I wore my suit and went straight to the church. Father David, our priest back home, was really nice about it, sneaking us in there.”
Hillen also managed to be there for his baby’s first doctor’s visit and was reminded just how tiny newborns are in a father’s arms.
“It was awesome, just holding him,” he said. “He’s even littler in person. I couldn’t believe how small he was. I forget how fast they grow.”
By Monday night Hillen was back on a plane headed for D.C., where he landed at 10 p.m., got a good night’s sleep and attended the Caps’ pre-game skate on Tuesday morning.
“It was a good visit, really good,” he said. “It was tough to leave them. I’m going to try to get them out here and get some help for them. If not, it was good to see them for a couple days.”
A little less than a year ago, Braden Holtby had a similar experience when his wife gave birth to the couple’s first child between Games 6 and 7 of the Eastern Conference semifinals against the Rangers.
“That’s part of our lifestyle that isn’t always good,” Holtby said. “He’s doing a great job dealing with it. You can tell he’s been a really happy guy and he’s playing extremely well right now.”
Never known for being an offensive point producer, Hillen has three goals and three assists in the five games since learning of the birth of Knox “Hat Trick.”
“It’s funny,” he said. “Maybe I need to have more kids.”
Hillen said there is a peace of mind that comes with securing a contract extension and knowing his family is surrounded by family and friends while he is busy trying to get the Capitals into the playoffs for the sixth consecutive spring.
“It’s peace of mind that I know she has family there and she’s taken care of,” he said. “I have peace of mind with the contract, too. Some players play better when they’re playing for a contract and some play better when they’re relaxed and I think I play better when I’m a little more relaxed.”
Capitals coach Adam Oates says what Hillen is doing for the Capitals, playing the role of teammate and long-distance Daddy, is something that often gets overlooked by fans.
“Part of his professional life is his personal life,” Oates said. “And he was able to do that and stay focused and play good hockey for us. That’s our job That is being a hockey player.”