Tag: vertigo

Jonas Hiller

Jonas Hiller’s long road from cloudy unknown to world-class netminder

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The 2010-11 season was shaping up to be a dream season for Jonas Hiller. He was in the midst of a career year with a .926 save percentage and 2.50 goals against average going into the all-star break. It would be his first career all-star appearance—the only goaltender in the Western Conference to earn the honor in 2011. The sky was the limit.

Then it all faded to black. Actually, that’s not true. It was then that the room started spinning out of control.

It was during that fateful weekend in January where Hiller’s dream season turned into a mystifying nightmare. At some point, something had happened to the Swiss netminder that doctors, coaches, and even Hiller couldn’t explain. The official word from the Ducks was “vertigo-like symptoms,” which basically means the goaltender’s world was spinning and no one knew why.

Six months later he said he was better. Then the Ducks said he was clear to play. With the great news of the offseason and Hiller stepping up in training camp, some of the details of Hiller’s bout with vertigo are starting to come to light. It’s long been thought that something happened during the All-Star weekend to Hiller, but it was mostly hearsay. In fact, he played in two more games after the All-Star break before the Ducks put him on injured reserve. Still, there’s no doubt that the man who returned from Raleigh wasn’t the same, all-world goaltender who was the only Western Conference goaltender that earned a trip to the all-star game.

Ducks legend Teemu Selanne shared with Pro Hockey Talk that there was something wrong with Hiller from the moment he returned. Something very wrong.

“I saw it right away,” Selanne admitted. “I think I was one of the first guys that saw him after the all-star break—the first practice, the first one he was so lazy out there. He was sitting on his stall [for an] hour, just looking in one spot. I said, ‘God, there’s something wrong with this guy.’ Then he tried to play, he couldn’t focus. It was obviously tough because up to that point, I think he was the best goalie in the league. That’s what it takes to win in this league these days. When the goalie is struggling, that’s a bad sign.”

The most frustrating part for Hiller and the Ducks was the unknown. After appearing in two games after the symptoms appeared – he was pulled after giving three goals in 11 minutes in the first game – the Ducks shut him down while they tried to figure out what was wrong with their prized netminder. At the end of March, the organization gave him another shot to get back to the ice to see where he stood. The news wasn’t good.

After giving up three goals on nine shots in an important game in Nashville, Hiller was returned to the bench while Ray Emery and Dan Ellis held down the goaltending duties. Hiller battled throughout the stretch run (and eventually the playoffs) to return to the crease, but it wasn’t to be. Bobby Ryan got an up-close and personal look at the Swiss netminder:

“You could see it in his eyes. He was battling a little bit. I think I noticed it the most in the playoffs, having some suspension time and getting to skate with him a little more then and work with him one on one.”

He was eventually shut down for the rest of the season.

That brings us back to today. Watching him stone teammates in practice, you’d never know that he was the guy who missed the last two months of last season. In his first game back, Hiller stopped 21 of 22 shots against the Vancouver Canucks and earned the #1 star of the game. When Selanne talks about Hiller’s performance in Vancouver, his tone noticeably changes for the better. Then again, he also shares that he wasn’t so sure how his goaltender would react to a live-game situation:

“He was outstanding in that game. You know, before that, you never know how the guy is going to be before he starts playing games. Obviously, it’s a totally different situation when you have the pressure of the games bring on you. It was great relief for everybody to see him doing well—he played so well.

“It’s funny,” Selanne continued. “A couple days in practice when the team went to LA, we were doing the shootouts and shooting the pucks and he was almost like a wall. We thought he was better than ever! So that’s great. We all know how important goaltending is these days. When the goalie gives you a chance to win every night, that’s huge.”

Around the league, organizations are looking to find new players in training camp to add to their respective teams to improve their team. But in Anaheim, the best “new” player may end up being that familiar face who was battling the unknown for the last six months of his life. Not many teams can claim they added a world-class goaltender to a team that already made a playoff run at the end of last season.

Look out Western Conference: the Hiller of old looks like he’s back.

Jonas Hiller, Teemu Selanne look sharp in Ducks preseason debuts

Jonas Hiller

During the off-season, the Anaheim Ducks’ two biggest wild cards have been Jonas Hiller’s health and Teemu Selanne’s retirement decision. While the Finnish Flash decided to come back for one more season, the Swiss stopper still needs to back up his claims that he’s healthy.

After one admittedly inconsequential preseason game, it seems like the verdict is: “So far, so good.”

Selanne assisted on a Corey Perry power-play goal while Hiller stopped all of the 21 shots he faced in two period of action as the Ducks beat the Vancouver Canucks 4-1 on Saturday night. Vancouver’s only tally came against former Edmonton Oilers netminder Jeff Deslauriers.

Ducks head coach Randy Carlyle came away impressed with Hiller’s first post-vertigo performance.

“He’s been seeing the puck,” Ducks coach Randy Carlyle said in a post-game interview with CBC. ”There’s been a lot made and there should be about his ailments that happened at the All-Star break last year. It really took him a long time to get back.

“What we did was just try to monitor it. He worked hard during the summer. He attended goaltending clinics in Switzerland, he was on the ice for over a month and a half there. He came back to Anaheim and he loked sharp and he has had no ill effects.”

A healthy Hiller raises the Ducks’ collective ceiling significantly

While the team made some minor adjustments to its defense, it’s possible that it took a slight step back by replacing retired penalty killing center Todd Marchant with historically deficient defensive pivot Andrew Cogliano. Some might also think that trading hard-hitting blueliner Andy Sutton for hard-shooting defenseman Kurtis Foster might be a downgrade, at least in the Ducks’ own end.

Those are under-the-radar issues, but Hiller’s puck-stopping skills were recognized last season with his first career All Star appearance. His career save percentage is .921, a stellar testament to the difference he makes behind an increasingly shaky defense. Hiller posted a .924 mark in an injury-shortened 2010-11. He’s a serious difference-maker who can camouflage a lot of weaknesses.

The Ducks might not run away with the Pacific Division with their formula of top-heavy offense and Hiller masking their defensive problems, but it’s a combination that has a strong chance of working well enough to earn a playoff spot. We’ll definitely keep an eye on Hiller’s health through the preseason and beyond, though, because vertigo-like symptoms are not exactly a common hockey injury.

Ducks declare Jonas Hiller fit for training camp after bout with vertigo

Jonas Hiller

Jonas Hiller was having one of the better seasons by a goalie in the NHL last year for the Anaheim Ducks when a battle with vertigo submarined his season in February. After the All-Star Game in Raleigh, Hiller played in just three more games the rest of the way for the Ducks. While the Ducks did make the playoffs with Dan Ellis and Ray Emery holding things down in goal, they were knocked out in the first round by the Nashville Predators leaving the Ducks to wonder if their fortunes would’ve been different with the All-Star goalie in net.

Heading into training camp this fall, all thoughts in Anaheim turned to whether or not Hiller would be ready to go for the Ducks this year as his battle with vertigo raged on. As it turns out, Hiller has been training well at home in Switzerland and will be ready to go come mid-September when Ducks training camp begins as he’s finally symptom free.

Said Hiller: “I’m very excited about the upcoming season. I’m happy to be feeling better and looking forward to getting back with my teammates. It’s been a long process, but I feel great and I’m ready to help this team win.”

For the Ducks this is a huge lift for them as their hopes in the west will hinge upon Hiller’s health. Having Dan Ellis there as an insurance policy is nice, but he hasn’t thrived as a starter in the NHL. Having him as a backup goalie benefits the team much more and Hiller’s abilities in goal make the Ducks a much more dangerous team.

Last season, Hiller went 26-16-3 with a 2.56 goals against average and a .924 save percentage with five shutouts. Hiller also earned his first NHL All-Star Game appearance. Hiller makes the Ducks a team to contend with in the Western Conference and helps them keep up with the Joneses like Vancouver, San Jose, Detroit, and Chicago. Hiller is capable of being a Vezina Trophy contender just so long as he can stay healthy and involved. Now that he’s “the man” in Anaheim, they can’t afford to have him miss out on big chunks of time and his recovery from vertigo was of the utmost importance. Here’s to hoping his struggles there are over with.