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Ducks goaltender Jonas Hiller settles in nicely

The 28-year-old, who has put down roots in Newport Beach, earns a place on the NHL All-Star roster for the first time, a year after the Ducks chose him over veteran Jean-Sebastien Giguere.

January 11, 2011|By Robyn Norwood
  • Jonas Hiller has established himself as one of the top goaltenders in the NHL, backstopping the Ducks' efforts to return to the playoffs.
Jonas Hiller has established himself as one of the top goaltenders in the… (Don Bartletti / Los Angeles…)

Jonas Hiller is no longer a renter.

He closed escrow on a place on the sand in Newport Beach in December, ending his annual ritual of moving out of a furnished rental at season's end to make way for summer tenants.

Far more important for the Ducks, the 28-year-old Swiss goaltender has taken up residence in a small but very valuable piece of real estate between the goalposts at the Honda Center.

That six-by-four-foot opening used to be the home of Jean-Sebastien Giguere, winner of the 2003 Conn Smythe Trophy and the 2007 Stanley Cup.

Now it belongs to Hiller, whose 21 wins, 2.39 goals-against average, .929 save percentage and back-to-back shutouts earned him a spot on the NHL All-Star roster Tuesday, one of six goalies on the team announced for the Jan. 30 game in Raleigh, N.C.

"It's a great feeling to have the chance go there and it's a great honor and I'm really excited," Hiller said.

It is the first trip for Hiller, a 6-foot-2, butterfly-style goalie who, like Giguere, is a protégé of Francois Allaire, the former Ducks goaltending consultant now with the Toronto Maple Leafs.

A year ago, the Ducks faced the dilemma of choosing between Giguere, the goalie who helped them win the Stanley Cup, and Hiller, five years his junior. They chose Hiller, signed him to a four-year, $18-million contract and traded Giguere and his $6-million salary to Toronto.

"The way Jonas played the playoffs the year before, it was something where it was just time for our organization and our team to move on," Ducks General Manager Bob Murray said. "It was a very difficult situation for Jonas and Jiggy because they're both good guys. The fact we didn't do something sooner probably hurt our hockey team. They were very professional, both of them, about it."

Giguere, in town with the Maple Leafs to face the Kings this week, gave a nod to Hiller.

"Of course I keep track of him and I'm glad that he's doing great this season," Giguere said. "He doesn't leave anything to luck. Everything, from his equipment to what he does in the gym and stuff like that, everything has a purpose.

"He deserves what's happening right now."

With his long curls wet from showering at the rink, Hiller could pass for a local surfer when he walks into a Newport Beach Italian restaurant on the weekend, though he's probably the only one concerned about how early they serve pasta on Sundays, when he needs a pregame meal for a 5 p.m. start.

Born in land-locked Switzerland, Hiller couldn't resist the lure of the beach.

"I have a chance to live by the beach. Why not? I understand why some of the guys with families don't," said Hiller, whose off-season hobbies include beach volleyball and tennis, along with a fondness for working on cars in Switzerland.

Hiller was born into a basketball family. His mother, Esther, played on the Swiss national team. She met his father, Gerhard, from whom she is now separated, when he coached one of her teams.

Jonas chose hockey, and went on to play professionally for Davos in the Swiss League before signing with the Ducks in 2007, largely because of Allaire, whom Hiller had met when he attended Allaire's Swiss goaltending camp at 17.

Hiller spurned basketball, but he still includes one of the other sports his mother encouraged when he warms up in a corridor outside the dressing room with a tennis ball.

"I just try to get every muscle of my body ready to step on the ice," said Hiller, who also prepares by using the balance boards in the weight room. "Part of it is the whole hand-eye coordination."

Even more unusual is how meticulous he is about the design and maintenance of his equipment, from the mask and the Koho pads he flew to Montreal to consult on all the way down to the way his skates are sharpened and the specially made hard protective cowling that attaches to the boot of a goalie's skates. A friend of Hiller who makes auto parts in Switzerland produces those.

"Most equipment managers and sales reps can tell you I'm not easy to work with," Hiller said with a little laugh.

Giguere confirmed it.

"He's very particular about his stuff. He drives the trainers crazy," Giguere said.

Doug Shearer, the Ducks' equipment manager, had to laugh.

"Jonas is very particular about his gear," he said, noting that he enjoys the 10 to 15 minutes Hiller spends with him every game day, lining up his skates precisely for Shearer to sharpen them with one edge higher in the front, leveling out as it goes toward the back of the custom steel blade.

Hiller, whose demeanor is otherwise relaxed, laughed at himself. "I am kind of a perfectionist," he said.

Pete Peeters, the Ducks' current goaltending consultant, called Hiller "very innovative" and notes that all his gear is legal and approved by the NHL.

"Your equipment is no different than a forward with their sticks or skates. If it doesn't feel right, it inhibits your mind to go out and play," Peeters said.

All the custom equipment in the world can't make an All-Star goalie out of a beer league guy.

"He's the real deal," Peeters said. "He's got extremely fast reflexes. He's lighting fast, and his diagonal and lateral movement are amazing."

Amazing is what the Ducks need.

"He's been huge," Perry said. "Just look at the last few games. What he's done is pretty much put the team on his back and carried us."

Times staff writer Helene Elliott contributed to this report.

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