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Hiller takes next step to become an All-Star

by Dan Rosen
Jonas Hiller was one of the best goalies at last year's Winter Olympics, leading Switzerland to a pair of wins, plus near-upsets against Canada and the United States. On Tuesday, the Anaheim Ducks goaltender was named an NHL All-Star for the first time in his four-year NHL career.

In the 11 months between the Olympics and the All-Star announcement, Hiller turned himself into a different goalie, altering his style to become a greater influence for the Ducks both inside and outside the blue paint.

Why would someone who jumped onto the global hockey scene in Vancouver change the way he plays? So he could become an All-Star in the NHL, of course.

"I always said when I came over here I didn't want to be one of a couple hundred -- I wanted to be one of the best and selected for the All-Star Game," Hiller told on Tuesday. "It means you've made a name for yourself and proven to be one of the best in the League."

Judging by sheer numbers Hiller emerged as one of the top 15 goalies in the League last season. He had 30 wins and a .918 save percentage for a non-playoff team.

Now he's a Vezina Trophy candidate who carries a shutout streak of 154:50 into Wednesday's game against St. Louis. Hiller is first in the NHL with 39 games played, tied for second with 21 wins, third with a .929 save percentage, and tied for fourth with four shutouts. He also has a not-too-shabby 2.38 goals-against average.

He hasn't allowed a goal in a week and is 5-1 with a .969 save percentage and 1.00 GAA in his last five games. He has 10 wins, a 1.56 GAA and .956 save percentage in his last 16 games.

Ducks coach Randy Carlyle credits Hiller's obvious growth to his evolution as an on-ice leader and a confident puck-handler.

It's a system of goaltending that Carlyle said Hiller had to buy into because the Ducks needed more than just a puck-stopper with a defense that's so young and obviously vastly different than it was two years ago when Scott Niedermayer and Chris Pronger were patrolling the blue line at Honda Center.

Nineteen-year-old Cam Fowler and 20-year-old Luca Sbisa are regulars in the Ducks' lineup now. The veterans are Lubomir Visnovsky, Toni Lydman, Andreas Lilja, Andy Sutton and Paul Mara -- a capable group, but not exactly of the same ilk as Niedermayer and Pronger.

"The team did change," Carlyle told "He realized and we realized that this is not the same group, so we've got to continue to push to implement a system that we think we can have success in."

Hiller has become more active. He has been playing the puck not only in front of him, but to his sides and behind him. The system has forced Hiller to take command, which isn't exactly easy for the mild-mannered and admittedly too-quiet goaltender.

"He's bought into some of the things we want him to do, and one is being more active in the net to play pucks, dump pucks and rim pucks," Carlyle said. "Beforehand he had no inclination on doing that, but it's involved him in the game more. He's sharper in the game because he's active going to track a puck down, whereas before he didn't view that as part of his responsibility."

It took Hiller time to adjust because first he had to get comfortable with new goalie coach Pete Peeters.

Hiller spent the bulk of his pro career working with renowned goalie coach Francois Allaire, but Allaire followed ex-Ducks goalie Jean-Sebastien Giguere to Toronto. Peeters, who had spent the last eight seasons with Edmonton, at least had immediate credentials as a former Vezina Trophy winner (1983).

"We found a way between each other, so I know how he can help me and he knows how to teach me so I can improve," Hiller said. "It took a while to get used to, but we're there, we have that confidence in each other."

Most important, Hiller has plenty of confidence in himself and his ability to be more than just a guy who stops the puck.

"My first focus is stopping the puck, that's what I'm measured on, but if I can help the defensemen out and make life easier on them, I'm glad to do it," he said. "We've had talks about it. I don't know if I changed my style in net, but I'm definitely trying to be more active around the net."

It's clearly working.

Hiller first turned heads in the Olympics 11 months ago, but he learned Tuesday how the hockey world really sees him.

"I wanted to be one of the best," Hiller said, "and being named an All-Star is pretty much saying that."

Follow Dan Rosen on Twitter at: @drosennhl
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