OTTAWA -- When Andy Hilbert turned pro, the gifted playmaker from the University of Michigan spent most of his first two seasons in Providence. He was summoned to Boston on occasion but wasn't ready to stick in the NHL. He had hoped this would be the year, but injuries prevented that objective from becoming a reality. He was slowed in training camp last fall by offseason hernia surgery, and though he tried to come back, the weakness in the muscles surrounding his abdomen caused a groin pull that resulted in him missing the first 40 games.
He returned to the Providence lineup Jan. 10 and yesterday was called up by the Bruins to play against the Senators at the Corel Centre. Hilbert, 23, said he's just happy to be playing anywhere.
"It's been a lot of hard work and down days and bad days but it's all worth the hard work to finally get an opportunity again," said Hilbert, who played last night on a line with center Craig MacDonald and right wing Marty Lapointe in the Bruins' 3-2 loss to the Senators. "I haven't been this excited since I don't even know. I've gone through a lot and it's been a tough time but I'm really excited."
Hilbert, who logged 19 shifts over 11:23 of ice time last night, confessed to a case of the nerves before the game but they went away as it went along.
"The beginning of the game was a little rough for me," he said. "I had a lot of butterflies tonight but, hopefully, they'll go away and I'll be more comfortable on the ice. Obviously, it's only going to get better each game for me."
For a time, Hilbert thought the entire season might be lost.
"For all of training camp, I wasn't even close to healthy but I had to give it a go, otherwise I wouldn't have been able to look myself in the mirror," said Hilbert, Boston's third choice (second round) in 2000. "It was a groin pull, I didn't think it was anything big but it ended up being a pretty serious injury. In November, that was probably the worst month for me. I didn't know if I was going to come back this season. They were talking about surgery. It finally started getting better in December and I was really excited I was able to play hockey, let alone being [called up] to Boston."
Hilbert acknowledged that testing the groin for the first time in a game situation weighed on his mind because he didn't want to reinjure himself.
"It was pretty nerve-racking," he said. "Obviously, I had practiced for a while and hoped everything would be OK but it wasn't a game situation. Obviously, I wasn't very good, missing 40 games, but it took me about four games to realize I was going to be OK and things weren't going to happen."
Now, he's getting a chance to be in the mix in Boston and he's thrilled the club still has confidence in his ability.
"They've shown a lot of commitment and it's been a tough year for me, missing 40 games, but obviously it shows how great management is in that they still have faith in me," said Hilbert, who left the Wolverines after piling up 97 points in 80 games over two seasons. "Hopefully, I can do well and show them that they made the right decision."
Left wing Sergei Samsonov sat out because of bruised ribs suffered Tuesday night in the first period against the Penguins and right wing Glen Murray was back in after missing the Pittsburgh game because he was ill. Samsonov, who reported feeling better the last two days, said it was more freak accident than anything. "I think I just fell on the ice," he said. "I must have fallen on somebody's stick. I didn't hit the boards right away. I tried to stay out for a couple of shifts, it was the end of the period, but it wasn't good enough to play. I'll probably have to miss a few days. Hopefully, it's nothing serious. For now, it's just a bone bruise. It's a day-to-day thing." . . . Murray, who fell ill Monday night, said he finally started feeling better Wednesday night. "I don't know if it was exactly [food poisoning] but it was some version of that," said Murray. "It was really bad. I couldn't get out of bed. It just hit me Monday night and that was it. I couldn't lift my head up. You wouldn't wish that on your worst enemy." . . . The Bruins practice in Chicago this afternoon and will play a matinee tomorrow against the Blackhawks at the United Center.