Jack Hillen hobbled into the Washington Capitals dressing room on crutches Monday morning in a grey sweatshirt and a Green Bay Packers hat, trying to make the best of an unfortunate injury derailing his season once again.
“What can you do? I have had a broken jaw, broken ribs and broken knee. I drank lots of milk as a kid, I swear,” Hillen said. “What can you do about it? I mean they’re freak injuries. Maybe I need a sacrifice a live chicken or something. I’ve got to try to find a way to stay positive. And that’s been the biggest challenge.”
Hillen, 27, fractured his right tibial plateau — the top part of the tibia — on Oct. 3 when he was hit into the boards by Calgary’s Lance Bouma in just the second game of the season and is expected to miss at least another month, if not more.
Last year, he missed two months after suffering broken ribs when Vincent Lecavalier checked him into the end boards in the season opener. Back in the 2009-10 season, he missed a month when an Alex Ovechkin slap shot broke his jaw.
When he went to play the puck along the boards against Calgary that night, Hillen tried to squeak past the oncoming opponent and avoid the hit. The moment Bouma made impact, though, Hillen knew something was wrong.
“I can’t tell you how bummed I was when he told me, but as soon as I got hit, I felt something pop and I just didn’t know what it was,” Hillen said. “And when he told me it was my knee, I never heard of someone breaking their knee. Mentally, it was tough. I’m still mentally a little frustrated and I’m just starting now to turn a corner and feel a little bit better with it, and it’s still going to be a while.”
Hillen underwent surgery on Oct. 4 for doctors to put in place a stabilizing plate and five screws. The most frustrating part of this recovery process for Hillen is that he isn’t able to put weight on his right leg for three months, which significantly limits the type of exercises he can perform.
“They want to be safe because if the knee moves or something doesn’t heal right, it can be a lot of long-term damage to it,” Hillen said. “I wish it were lower on the leg and not the knee because then you can start [to] do some other stuff, but you don’t want the plates and the screws to move and other things. It’s tough. It’s really just like a waiting game. I’m trying to do as much as I can so my muscle doesn’t just atrophy completely, but try to keep as much strength as you can but there’s not really much you can do besides upper-body workouts.”
As difficult as it’s been to go through another significant injury, Hillen remains optimistic and is determined to be ready to play again this season should the Capitals need him.
“I’m hoping I’m ready to go this year. Whenever I get back, a lot of things can happen and change,” said Hillen, who declined to discuss any specific timeline for his recovery. “You never know if guys are playing, I don’t want to mess up the rhythm of the team, but if they need be, I’m trying to be available for them.”