Dutch Hiller

Hiller, Dutch: Played left wing for the New York Rangers, Detroit, Boston and Montréal from 1937-1946. Born: Kitchener, Ontario, 1915.

After thirty years of service to Los Angeles Wholesale Drugs, Dutch Hiller retired in 1980. His employer decreed that he leave in June while Dutch insisted on leaving six months earlier. As he always did, Dutch stayed true to his word and left on his own terms. The company retaliated by docking a percentage of his pension. His response showed that same old spark that had sustained his NHL career all those years ago. To his employer he warned: “I’ll make you pay — I’ll live a little longer!”

Dutch entered the NHL with the New York Rangers in 1937-38 — and he was determined to stay there! “During my day there were some who were better and some who were worse,” he affirmed with the squint of an eye. “But I’ll tell you, no matter how big, tough or mean a guy was, he wasn’t getting past me.” His hurricane speed made certain of that and soon became his calling card as fans wondered whether his blades ever actually touched the ice. Dutch and the boys sped their way to a Stanley Cup in 1940 before the trade wis began to howl. He was moved to Detroit, Boston, Montreal, back to New York and then returned to Montreal — all within a span of four years. Before the end of the 1945-46 season, he had had plans to call it quits. “My legs were still good,” he recounted. “But I said, ‘I’ve had ten years as a professional and two Cups. I’ve never been hurt seriously and I can’t see across the ice. Get out when the getting’s good’!”

Dutch was referring to his failing eyesight that descended like an ill-timed scoring drought. “I used to fill in on a baseball team and I never struck out,” he recalled. “I’d always get a piece of the ball. But all of a sudden I started to strike out. So I had my eyes tested and sure enough, I put on the glasses and started to hit again.

“Well, I tried the glasses in hockey. Now, I was about 5’8″ and I was just about the height of shoulders and elbows. I got the rims if the glasses shoved into my [face] and about eighteen stitches. So I decided to take the glasses off and play half blind.”

That idea didn’t work well, so he tried on a pioneer’s version of contact lenses. “They were the old kind where you had a bubble and a suction cup that fit over the whole eye,” he explained. “They didn’t move with your eye like the new types do. I tried them for a couple of years, but it didn’t work out either.” The trial was soon laid to rest, but those lenses still live on as an historical display at the museum of optometry in California.

With the contacts as the last straw, Dutch turned his sights towards retirement. But before he could execute his plan, his rights were traded to Toronto at the end of the 1945-46 season. Conn Smythe wanted to keep a supply of experienced men in Pittsb-urgh as insurance in case his youth movement with the Leafs didn’t work out. Dutch agreed to put in one season in exchange for getting his amateur card back.

In 1947, with card in hand, he retired from professional hockey and returned to his hometown of Kitchener, Ontario where life was full of promise. He then quickly stepped into a job as manager of Rockway Golf Course — a post that left him free to coach the Stratford Khroellers of the Ontario Hockey Association, a team that featured a sixteen-year-old George Armstrong. Dutch also coached, managed and captained the Kitchener Dutchmen of the Ontario Senior Hockey League. All was well for about a year until his wife became ill. “The doctor said, ‘If you want your wife around, you better move to Arizona or California’,” he recollected. “I had figured on staying in Kitchener for the rest of my life. I had everything there just the way I wanted it.”

His wife had a rheumatic heart condition and required a warm, dry climate to survive. So together, they made a whole new start, eventually settling in Los Angeles. The move helped his wife’s condition although in the end, it wasn’t enough. “She lived five years longer than they expected,” he related. “But she died at fifty.”

When Dutch first arrived in California, he spent two seasons coaching the Los Angeles Monarchs of the Western Hockey League. Near the end of his second year, the team’s power openly criticized him in front of the players. Dutch didn’t agree with the owner’s handling of the situation and resigned.

After a brief stint with Hartman Tool & Engineering, he then settled in for the long haul with Los Angeles Wholesale Drug in 1950. “I did everything in the business from stock clerk, to buying, receiving, shipping… everything there was to do.”

He would often work till ten at night, putting his best foot forward for the company. When he eventually became a salesman, however, he changed his approach. “I’d just start to make some money,” he complained. “Then they’d cut my territory. They would bring somebody else in and then they expected me to build my territory up again. So when they started to monkey business, why I said, ‘I’ll give you eight hours and that’s all I’ll give you!'”

In 1969, Dutch married his second wife who, coincidentally, hailed from the Kitchener area. When a mutual friend described the former hockey player to her, she said she used to “boo” him whenever he came to Toronto to play against her beloved Leafs. In spite of the antipathy, they hit it off very well.

When Dutch retired in 1980, he and his wife returned to Canada to be near her two sons. They settled in Richmond Hill, Ontario for several happy years before she developed Alzheimer’s disease and had to be institutionalized. Dutch still keeps a close eye on her.

These days he live on his own. “I’ve been alone for six or seven years. But that’s life,” he concluded. “That’s the way it goes. I said, ‘How lucky can you be? I’ve had two good wives’.” Dutch spends his leisure time like a leaf in the wind. “I don’t like to sit around too much!” he asserted. “I’ll get something to eat, do a bit of putting in the livingroom and I even take some swings with my chipping iron just along side the coffee table. After that it’s coffee with my friends and a round of snooker downstairs.”

In parting, Dutch explained the secret of his health and well being: “I always live by the Golden Rule — ‘Do unto others as you would have them do unto you’ — except of course when it came to hockey. Then it was the rule of retaliation. You don’t let anybody beat you down!”