In two stints with the Hurricanes from 1997-98 to 1999-00 and then 2001-02 to 2003-04, Sean Hill brought a physical, rugged and sometimes nasty brand of hockey that regularly got under opponents’ skin to the Canes blue line. He averaged more than a penalty minute per game in a Canes uniform and had a special knack for getting under the skin of Boston Bruins’ star Joe Thornton. In the 2002-03, Hill somehow amassed 141 penalty minutes with only a single 5-minute fighting major and a single 10-minute misconduct. He collected 63 minor penalties, many of the cross-checking or roughing variety, over the span of the 82-game season.
But Sean Hill was not an old school enforcer with limited hockey ability. When not causing chaos on the ice or visiting his second home in the penalty box, Hill accompanied his physical defensive play with an edge with solid defensive play and a big right shot. His big shot was a fixture on the Hurricanes power play, and he put up two 13-goal seasons (1999-00 and 2003-04) on his way to scoring 38 goals in a Hurricanes uniform.
His greatest run as a Hurricane came in the 2001-02 season that saw a generally star-less Canes blue line gel and become a key component of the team’s playoff success. The playoff run featured a regular recipe of playing tight defensive hockey to stay in games and always finding late-game heroics to claim wins. Nine of the Canes 13 wins in those 2002 playoffs came with the opponent scoring either zero or one goal, and Sean Hill was a big part of that. Paired with Glen Wesley as the team’s first unit, they were largely tasked with shutting down the other teams’ best lines during those playoffs. In addition to his defensive duties, he scored the huge goal to break the ice against Jose Theodore in the ‘Miracle at Molson’ and finished the playoffs with four goals and four assists in 23 games as part of the Canes stunning run to the Stanley Cup Finals.
When looking back on Sean Hill’s NHL career, I am not sure many people would envision him as a first pairing defenseman, but that when the pressure was on in the 2002 playoffs that is exactly what he was in helping lead his team all the way to the Stanley Cup Finals.
The visual memory of #22 in a Canes uniform is one half Hill banging bodies or jamming a bit after the whistle and the other half picturing a laser of a one-timer on the power play finding the back of the net.