Ducks goalie Jonas Hiller is looking forward to playing hockey again after… (Mike Blake / Reuters )
He could have handled an injured knee, a sore groin or even a broken bone.
Instead, for the Ducks' Jonas Hiller, this felt as if he was fighting off a clever, unknown opponent, floundering helplessly in the dark. Not only did he not know how he got to this place, but there also was no reasonable plan to get out of the quandary.
Unfortunately, there was no fixed timetable to recover from vertigo, a difficult realization for a goal-oriented athlete, the man assigned to stop goals from being scored.
"That was probably the toughest for me," Hiller said. "Nobody could really tell me what it was. Nobody could really tell me how long it was going to take or what caused it.
"If I should rest. Should I do more? Should I do less? What should I do? I wish something would have hurt, like this way I could say at least say it hurts more today because I did too much. Or it hurts less so it's getting better."
Vertigo derailed an All-Star season for the talented goaltender and cast a long shadow over his off-season — and the Ducks too. The darkness started to lift in mid-July when Hiller attended a goalie school.
"I was feeling a lot better than when I left Anaheim," he said. "I still didn't feel 100%, but I felt like I was moving in the right direction. It's going somewhere and I'm not stuck to the same place. Mentally, that was a relief. It kept on getting better and better, almost day by day."
The hope was that Hiller would be fit enough to start in the Ducks' regular-season opener Friday in Helsinki, Finland, against the Buffalo Sabres. He had many obstacles to overcome to get to that point, especially in training camp, and survived every test.
Hiller appeared in three exhibition games, playing 130 minutes, recording two wins, a 1.38 goals-against average and a .955 save percentage.
You could practically hear the sigh of relief in Honda Center when Hiller survived a spirited onslaught from the Vancouver Canucks on Sept. 28.
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"If your goalie is average, your team is average," the Ducks' Teemu Selanne said. "If your goalie gives you a chance to win every night, there's no limits, really. That's how important the goalie's job is these days."
The next assignment for Hiller and the Ducks is avoiding the snail-like starts that have bedeviled the team the last couple of seasons.
"We showed last year that we can pretty much play with any team in the league," Hiller said. "We have the skills, the toughness. We have kind of everything. I guess the biggest problem was sometimes it wasn't working together properly or we had too many nights off."
The small lineup tweaks, familiarity and, of course, a healthy Hiller could reverse that trend of slow Octobers and Novembers.
"I thought the last couple of years it took us almost till Christmas to find who we are and how we want to play," Hiller said. "We have the guys who have been playing together a couple of years now, which also helps. You don't have to take the first month to figure out who should play with whom or have to get to know each other.
"You can start from where you left off."