Capitals defenseman Jack Hillen and his wife, Caitlin, thought they had the perfect plan for the arrival of their second child.
Living with her husband’s family in Minnetonka, Minn., Caitlin was due to deliver their second child on April 17. The Capitals have a two-break in the schedule April 14 and 15 and Jack figured he’d catch a flight back home to witness the birth.
Little Knox Patrick had other plans.
While the Capitals were in Sunrise, Fla., on Saturday night preparing to play the Florida Panthers, Caitlin went into labor.
“I didn’t know,” Hillen said. “I had no idea. I talked to her before the game and everything was fine. I had no idea she was going into labor.”
That’s where Ian Anderson, the Caps’ manager of team services, enters the story.
Anderson and Caitlin had each other’s cell phone numbers and it was agreed upon that if Caitlin went into labor just before or during a game she would text him. Hillen made it clear to Anderson that he did not want to know if his wife was in labor during a game.
It was early in the third period that Anderson received a text from Caitlin that she gave birth to a 7-pound, 1 ounce boy.
“I got off the ice,” Hillen said, “Ian pulled me aside and said, ‘Congratulations.’ It’s awesome. It’s a blessing. Everybody’s healthy.”
Hillen managed to get a Wifi connection and FaceTimed with Caitlin and their newborn son after the game, and again when the Caps landed in D.C. around 3 a.m.
“I texted her and she couldn’t sleep,” Hillen said of Caitlin. “Not a lot of sleep for me. A lot of things were going through my head. I was kind of planning on things differently.”
Two years ago, as a member of the New York Islanders, Hillen witnessed the birth of his first son, Finn. The Isles were about to embark on an 11-day road trip to Western Canada when Caitlin went into labor the night before.
“I was lucky enough to be there for my first one,” Hillen said. “I’ll always be grateful for that.”
Hillen, who picked up two assists in the Caps’ 4-2 win over the Tampa Bay Lightning Sunday night, said he wishes he could have been with his wife for the birth of Knox Patrick.
“FaceTime makes it a little bit easier,” he said. “I’ll get to see them but I just wan to hold him. It sucks. I want to go back and hold him and I can’t. We’ll have a couple days off on the 14th and 15th and I’ll try to get back and see them.”
Hillen said he’s grateful for the help his wife is getting in Minnetonka, where most of his family still lives. He says he chose the names of Finn and Knox for his two sons because he did not want to duplicate any of the names of his 40 cousins.
“With their kids we’re probably up to 60 or 70 on one side of my family,” he said. “We thought those names were interesting.”
Capitals coach Adam Oates acknowledged that not every hockey player would make the sacrifice Hillen made over the weekend.
“It’s old school, it’s great,” Oates said. “We talked about when he can go home and see his family. We appreciate him being here because we need him. It’s very unselfish.
“It’s a tough business. It’s part of it. Not everybody agrees with that, but I did.”