March 19, 2008
Get To Know Jack Hillen

By Jess Myers

If Colorado College can win a pair of games this weekend at Xcel Energy Center, it would be the first outright WCHA playoff title in the school's 70 seasons of college pucks. But it would be a kind of old news for Tigers senior defenseman Jack Hillen, who won a Minnesota state high school title there in 2002, as a sophomore at Academy of Holy Angels in the Minneapolis suburbs.


Jack Hillen has had championship experience at the XCel Energy Center before, but now has the opportunity to share that with his college teammates.

National TV Schedule

Last week, Inside College Hockey named Hillen the league's Breakthrough Player of 2007-08. The medium-sized blueliner had a nearly four-fold increase in assists this season en route to his team gaining their second MacNaughton Cup in his four seasons at CC (they shared the league crown with Denver in 2005).

As Hillen packed his hockey bag for a return trip to his home state this week, he spoke with Jess Myers of INCH about his final season of college hockey, and about the fact that some teams use the term "climbing a mountain" as a figurative term for working together to win a title, but it's much more literal for the Tigers.

Inside College Hockey: What were your college options, and why did you pick CC?

Jack Hillen: I committed right after my junior year of high school ended, so I committed pretty early. My options were either here or Harvard. Those were the two teams that were looking at me. I came out here on an unofficial visit. They were number one at the time, with (Peter) Sejna and (Tom) Preissing and (Marty) Sertich on the team. I hung out with Sertich and Weston Tardy, who's a Duluth kid. I loved the guys and I loved the atmosphere down here. So I went home, thought it over for a couple days, then called Coach Owens and told him I wanted to play here. I really didn't even need to think about it. It only took one unofficial visit and I fell in love with it.

INCH: How does CC's famed "block plan" work academically?

JH: You take one class at a time, for three-and-a-half weeks. You get out of class on Wednesday and a lot of kids go skiing. Then you start a new class on Monday.

INCH: In March, if you're on the hockey team, do they allow you to count "the playoffs" as one of those three-week blocks?

JH: Well, right now we're on spring break, but no, they don't do that.

INCH: What's your biggest strength as a player, and why such a huge jump in assists this season?

JH: My biggest strength is skating. I've taken skating lessons since I was six years old. My feet are probably my biggest asset. I don't know why I'm getting more assists. I've been more patient with the puck and I've also been feeding the puck up a little bit more on my breakouts. Making a better first breakout pass helps get some assists.

WCHA Final Five Capsules
No. 1 Colorado College
Record: 28-9-1 (21-6-1 WCHA)
Tiger Note: At the Final Five, CC historically struggles on Saturday night, having lost in the championship game in 1995 (to Wisconsin), 2003 (to Minnesota) and 2005 (to Denver). But the Tigers are hot stuff on Saturday afternoon, going 6-1 in the tournament's third-place game.
How CC Wins: No matter which team wins on Thursday night (Minnesota or St. Cloud State) the Tigers will be the home team in sweater color only on Friday, facing a Minnesota-based team in the shadow of the Minnesota State Capitol, in front of a huge crowd, most of which will be rooting against the regular season champs. So being ready to play in the first period, and getting the first goal, is vital. Otherwise the crowd gets going, the blood starts pumping, and Richard Bachman (who has never played like a freshman) might get a little rattled by the surroundings.
No. 2 North Dakota
Record: 25-9-4 (18-7-3 WCHA)
Fighting Sioux Note: Friday afternoon's meeting between the Fighting Sioux and Denver in St. Paul will mark just the third time those teams have faced off in the Final Five. The Pioneers have won both of the previous meetings, including the 1999 title game at Target Center in Minneapolis.
How UND Wins: For the Fighting Sioux to continue their red-hot ways, the key is to keep their heads about them. There were penalties and scraps aplenty a few weeks ago when they played the Pioneers in Grand Forks, and there's sure to be some bad blood left over when the meet on Friday. The fans know that, the teams know that, and most importantly, the officials know that, and the folks in stripes will be primed to keep things under control on the league's biggest stage. So keep it clean, don't get caught up in crap after the whistle, and rely on the fact that you're the deepest team in the field.
No. 3 Denver
Record: 24-13-1 (16-11-1 WCHA)
Pioneer Note: A trip to St. Paul is not a sure thing for the Pioneers, having been upset in the opening round of the playoffs in 2004, 2006 and 2007, but when they get to the Xcel Energy Center, the Pios usually do good things. In their last two trips to the Final Five (2002 and 2005) the Pioneers have flown home with the Broadmoor Trophy.
How DU Wins: The Pioneers spent a floundering few weeks wondering how they'd replace Brock Trotter's offense, then seemed to realize that with a former NCAA champ in goal and the likes of Patrick Mullen, Andrew Thomas and Chris Butler on the blue line, maybe offense was the wrong area of focus. The Pioneers' most notable recent successes have come via a defense-first approach. That's different than the way they were winning 17 of their first 21 games this season, but these Pioneers are a different team, and the playoffs are a different world.
No. 5 St. Cloud State
Record: 19-14-5 (12-12-4WCHA)
Husky Note: Since leaving his long-time assistant coaching post at Minnesota in 2005 to take over the reins of his alma mater, Huskies head coach Bob Motzko is 5-1-3 versus his former employer, including a win and a tie earlier this season. The Huskies and Gophers last Final Five meeting was that 8-7 overtime shootout SCSU won in the 2006 semifinals
How SCSU Wins: After watching their amazing power play work its magic a few times earlier this season, we were convinced that the Huskies' success begins and ends with offense, especially when there's an opponent in the penalty box. But last weekend's first round sweep changed that perception just a bit, when goalie Jase Weslosky shut out Wisconsin one night and turned aside 46 Badger shots in the win the next night. That man-advantage unit is still either really scary or really fun to watch (depending on where your loyalties lay) but the Huskies are becoming a more complete team at just the right time of year.
No. 7 Minnesota
Record: 17-15-9 (9-12-7 WCHA
Golden Gopher Note: Minnesota has been in a school-record 15 overtime games this season, and has (appropriately) tied a school record with nine ties. That number of ties would've risen to 12 if last weekend's trio of games, all of which were still knotted after five minutes of OT, had been regular season contests.
How UM Wins: The regular season meetings between the Gophers and St. Cloud State marked a turning point for Don Lucia's team defensively, as goaltender Jeff Frazee struggled, and rookie Alex Kangas took over the job for good. Recently, that's looked like the right move, as Kangas has backstopped a 5-2-2 run, and looked unfazed despite playing the equivalent of nearly five games in three days, before a hostile crowd, with their season likely on the line, last weekend at Minnesota State. The Gophers have sought consistent offense all season, and frankly are still searching, so the kid between the pipes has to keep up the good work if Minnesota is to keep winning.

INCH: Were the early-season trips to New Hampshire then North Dakota a defining time for your team?

JH: Those were tough trips. I thought we should've won at least one game in New Hampshire, if not two. We were winning in both of them and it slipped away from us. It's really hurting us right now in the PairWise, coming back to bite us a little bit. Going to North Dakota we really got smoked in the first game, thoroughly out-played. It was a real test for us because we'd lost three in a row then and we were wondering where we were as a team. To come back and play well Saturday night really built confidence for our entire team. To do that on the road was huge.

INCH: Some teams look to early season road trips to build unity. Did it have that affect on your club?

JH: This team has been really close all year, so I don't think it brought us together any more than we already were. All the guys voluntarily came back here last summer, worked out here, climbed Pikes Peak together, and did a lot of good team-building exercises. We've been really close all year so going on the road may have helped, but we were really close already.

INCH: The question about your team heading into this season was in goal. What did you know about Richard Bachman, and at what point did you know he was going to be the difference-maker that's he's been?

JH: I didn't know that much about him, other than that he'd played a few years in Cedar Rapids in the USHL and he was a pretty big-time recruit. We came into the season thinking that Drew (O'Connell) was going to get an opportunity and they did split the first couple series to see what would happen. But I knew when Bachman played against the University of Minnesota and was so unfazed by anything that happened to him. He was so confident in the net, and you can tell that nothing rattles him, if he gives up a goal or gets run over by a player, he just bounces right back up. When I saw that first series against Minnesota I though if he could play like that, we're going to have a chance to do something. And he's played like that all year. He really only had one kind of disappointing game all year, against Michigan Tech, then he bounced right back and played great the next weekend.

INCH: The way your team played at home all season was a key part of winning the WCHA title, but were you also sending a message about the NCAA playoffs?

JH: Definitely. We've had a theme all year that we need to play well on our home ice because we don't really need to leave this state to accomplish our main goal. We've tried to protect our home ice and establish something good here because we know regionals are coming up and it's important to get back to the Frozen Four.

INCH: Some say it's bad luck to win the MacNaughton Cup if you want to win the NCAA title. Are you scared of the curse?

JH: We haven't won a national championship since '57, so I don't think it's that much of a curse. I think it's a huge honor and achievement to win the MacNaughton Cup because you have to play well the whole year. It just goes to show how consistent our team was all year and how much we had to earn it. North Dakota came on strong and they're on fire right now. And Denver was so hot at the beginning, we questioned if they were ever going to lose a game, but we kept going along and kept winning games. So hopefully we can catch a little lighting in a bottle here and win four games at the end of the season.

INCH: The Cup is a heavy piece of hardware, isn't it?

JH: It is. I picked it up and I was like, 'Whoa! Did they really need to make the conference trophy that big?' But it's cool. It's an unbelievable trophy.

INCH: What's your major?

JH: I'm majoring in economics and I'm pretty much done, I just need to finish my thesis. That's basically done too, I just need to write my introduction and hand it in. It's going well.

INCH: Have you thought about a hockey career beyond college?

JH: I was not drafted, and really my main focus is on this year, doing something special with this team. You only get this opportunity once, so I'm just kind of living in the moment right now. But what ever happens after the season, happens.

INCH: You and a few of your teammates played at the Xcel Energy Center in the 2005 Final Five, but are you kind of the team's unofficial guide to St. Paul, having already won a championship on that ice sheet?

JH: No, but I do feel at home sometimes out there because I played in three state tournaments there. I feel pretty confident because I've played a bunch of games there. I love playing there, especially when the building is packed and fans are rooting against you. Once in high school we were playing Roseville and it seemed like the whole building was against us. There were about 100 Holy Angels fans. But I love that atmosphere, and it's such a fun place to play. Everybody in Minnesota loves their hockey, and it's exciting to go back there.

INCH: Having spent four years in Colorado, do you see the game growing there, similar to Minnesota?

JH: Hockey is definitely growing and getting big out here, but you kind of miss Minnesota sometimes with all of the coverage and exposure hockey gets, even in high school.

INCH: Who keeps it loose on your team, in the room?

JH: Jake Gannon will speak up when he has to, he's not shy. But he's more the quiet practical jokester. He's got a memory like an elephant and will remember anything you say. You've got to be careful around him. He'll bring up something I said my sophomore year and give me a little ribbing about it. He's definitely the jokester on the team, he and Drew O'Connell. You watch what you say around those two.

INCH: In terms of creating offense from the blue line, what's your favorite play?

JH: I really don't take many slap shots. I like to walk across the blue line and try to make a move on a forward coming out to block a shot, to create a different angle to get a shot through. Sometimes I like to pull it back with a little backhand pull, or fake a shot, wake around him, then put a wrist shot on net. That's my favorite type of play, when a forward is coming out to challenge me.

INCH: In 2004, en route to the NCAA title, Denver won a regional in your building. Is there talk of paying the Pioneers back by winning the Frozen Four in Denver?

JH: Scott Thauwald was the only member of the team who was here then, so nobody here has animosity toward Denver for that reason. We have a lot of respect for Denver. It's just a really healthy rivalry. So we don't need to pay them back, we just want to win it for ourselves.

A variety of sources were utilized in the compilation of this report. Jess Myers can be reached at