Column: IceCaps’ Hill a true defender

Robin
Robin Short
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St. John’s IceCaps defenceman Jordan Hill (centre) clears a puck from in front of netminder Michael Hutchinson as the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins’ Anton Zlobin pressures him during Game 2 of the team’s best-of-seven American Hockey League Eastern Conference final last Sunday in St. John’s. Hill and the IceCaps take a 3-1 series into Game 5 tonight in Wilkes-Barre/Scranton, Pa.

Rearguard willing to do whatever it takes to help team win

WILKES-BARRE/SCRANTON, PA. — It was a few weeks ago, down in Norfolk, Va. at The Scope Arena, that the St. John’s IceCaps and homestanding Admirals were engaged in Game 4 of their second-round Calder Cup playoff series.
The IceCaps were up 2-1 in the series, and leading the Admirals 3-0 after a period and a bit in the crucial fourth game.

St. John’s defenceman Jordan Hill dropped his 6-2, 200-pound frame down to block a shot — just as he’s done all season long — and took a screamer off the inner part of the leg, where there’s no protection.

Hill was down and out as the play returned towards the Admirals goal. The 25-year-old product of Sarnia, Ont. managed to scrape himself off the ice and hobble to the bench, and just as he was doing so, Eric O’Dell scored to make it a 4-0 game.

Watching the ensuing goal celebration unfold, Hill detoured and stumbled towards O’Dell and friends with the speed of a senior citizen on a Florida shuffleboard court.

“Oh geez,” Hill grinned this week, “I was dying. But that was a big goal by Odie, and I was definitely getting in on that celebration regardless of the pain.”

That, folks, sums up Jordan Hill.

Thursday night, the St. John’s IceCaps played Game 4 of their American Hockey League Eastern Conference final against the Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins minus rookie sensation Josh Morrissey, out with an unspecified minor injury.

No Morrissey, no problem. Will O’Neill and Zach Redmond logged tons of minutes on the power play — the duo played nearly an entire shift on one man advantage situation — with O’Neill scoring once and adding an assist in the 2-1 win.

When they needed a spell, Ben Chiarot and Brenden Kichton spilled over the boards.

You won’t find that help in Hill — he’s yet to score a goal this year.

Rather, he’s the guy who plays a superior defensive game, blocks shots, plays tough, is on the No. 1 penalty killing unit and, if need be, drops the gloves once in a while.

Not saying Hill is irreplaceable, but …

Pretty good for a chap who arrived in St. John’s on a tryout, with no guarantees. It was one of only a few offers he had received from teams last summer.

Winnipeg Jets scouts liked the way he had played in Bridgeport, Conn., last season with the AHL’s Sound Tigers, a year in which he also toiled in the ECHL.

They liked what he brought to the rink every night, and the fact he didn’t run around and get flustered under pressure.

Hill also liked St. John’s, liked the potential makeup of the roster and the fact he could see room on the blueline in which he could slip in and win a job.

“He came in and had a real strong camp,” said coach Keith McCambridge. “Kris Fredheim had an injury, so there was even more opportunity for him to showcase himself.”

Hill won himself a job, and landed a one-year contract. Today, he’s a core piece of the St. John’s blueline as the IceCaps march towards the Calder Cup final.

But it hasn’t been easy.

Captain of his Sarnia Sting junior team — how’s this for déjà vu? As a kid, Hill was a big fan of former Sarnia scoring star Aaron Brand, who went on to play four seasons for the St. John’s Maple Leafs — Hill was undrafted after three seasons in the Ontario Hockey League.

He bounced between the ECHL’s Ontario Reign and the AHL’s Sound Tigers and Manchester Monarchs before landing in St. John’s this season, in what might be IceCaps general manager Craig Heisinger’s shrewdest signing.

“I don’t have all the offensive tools,” he said, “but I know what my strongpoint is: keep it a simple game, move pucks to the forwards and keep it out of our net.”

“He does have some ability to jump into the rush,” said McCambridge. “I’ve seen him do that numerous times. And he can make the strong first pass.

“But when I’m looking at an area where I want Jordan Hill to help our lineup, the offensive side of things isn’t high on my list. I want him to play the way he’s been for us down the stretch — strong in our own end, a real good penalty killer, blocking shots.

“For me, that’s contagious. You see Jordan Hill and the way he sacrifices his body … all of a sudden Player B and Player C are on the same page.”

“You get your fair share of bruises,” Hill said, “but when the boys are behind you when you do it, when the whole team appreciates it, it makes it a lot easier.”

The IceCaps have a chance to wrap up the Eastern Conference title tonight, and punch a ticket to the Calder Cup final against either the Toronto Marlies or Texas Stars.

They know it won’t be easy, not against these Penguins, the IceCaps’ most physical opponent so far in these playoffs.

It will be another smash-up derby, not for the faint of heart.

A game, in other words, tailor made for Jordan Hill.

Robin Short is The Telegram’s Sports Editor. He can be reached by email at rshort@thetelegram.com

Follow him on Twitter @TelyRobinShort

Organizations: IceCaps, American Hockey League, Winnipeg Jets Maple Leafs Ontario Hockey League.He Toronto Marlies

Geographic location: Jordan Hill, Sarnia, Florida Wilkes-Barre Bridgeport, Conn.

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