Alden Hirschfeld’s sheer perseverance through a journey of unimaginable adversity has established a renewed appreciation and a new role for the Walleye forward.
Hirschfeld, a 28-year-old whose future in the sport was uncertain nine months ago, said he fully embraces his role as a mentor. The Sylvania native and Northview High School graduate has completed a remarkable and quick recovery from brain surgery to repair a condition that led to seizures.
Just five months after the operation, Hirschfeld was back skating. After re-signing with his hometown team, he was named an assistant captain and promptly produced. He ranks 10th on the team in scoring.
“It’s all back to normal, and I just love what I do,” Hirschfeld said. “It took some time to get back into it. It’s great to be back at the rink, getting dressed, and hopping out on to the ice versus just watching. I’m just excited and blessed to be able to play in my hometown.”
At this juncture in his five-year pro career, the 6-foot-1, 205-pounder not only has contributed on the stat sheet with seven goals and eight assists for 15 points in 19 games, but he also has taken several of the rookies under his wing.
“I like to reach out to the young guys and help them to understand pro hockey. It’s nice to have that role to help the team,” Hirschfeld said.
The dependable center had taken his game to a new level at this time last year. But his career was put on hold when he collapsed on the bench during a game while playing for Grand Rapids in the American Hockey League in January. A tangle of arteries and veins in the brain caused the seizure.
Walleye coach Dan Watson said no one could have envisioned Hirschfeld’s rapid recovery.
“It’s as impressive a comeback as I’ve personally seen,” Watson said. “The dedication and commitment from Alden and his family is incredible. From brain surgery to being a major part of a successful team is astonishing.”
Hirschfeld has helped lead the Walleye to the best start of a season in Toledo ECHL history. In his fourth campaign with his hometown team, Hirschfeld also continues to etch his name into the franchise’s record books.
He has appeared in 154 games with the Walleye, fifth on the team’s all-time list. Hirschfeld has 41 goals and 73 assists for 114 points for Toledo.
Hirschfeld has played in the fourth-most games in Walleye history, trailing only Kyle Rogers (319), teammate Evan Rankin (196), and Phil Rauch (169). Hirschfeld also ranks fourth in career total points, fourth in assists, and seventh in goals. He is tied for second in power-play goals scored with 14.
“It’s cool and it’s neat to hear,” Hirschfeld said. “I’m sure family and friends will like all that. But I never look at that stuff. We have a good team and it’s been awesome. We want it to continue rolling in that direction.”
Hirschfeld ranks second in career shots (406) and holds the single-game record with five assists in a game.
Hirschfeld also has become the team's top chef. He has had all of the players to his house for barbeques and a fish fry.
“The guys were in heaven,” said Hirschfeld, who has a slow cooker. “I also fried 10 pounds of walleye.”
Watson said Hirschfeld provides leadership on and off the ice.
“He’s a true pro in every sense of the word,” Watson said. “He is a sounding board for young pros trying to make it and he is a valuable asset to the Walleye in trying to win a championship. He’s a major piece of what we need.”
Hirschfeld said continuing to be able to play the game he loves for a living gives him even more reason to appreciate the holidays. He said he took an extra moment to reflect last weekend when he celebrated Christmas with his family, including his wife, Lauren, and 2-year-old daughter, Vivian.
“I’ve always been a big family guy,” he said. “My grandmother is in town from Phoenix and she’s excited to still be able to see me play. I’m just glad to be back playing.”
Entering Tuesday's game, Hirschfeld had played in 240 regular-season pro games. He had 51 goals and 84 assists for 135 points.
“It’s easy to pop right back into it,” Hirschfeld said. “It’s a lot of the same guys. It’s a good core group that we have back. It’s great to be out there playing with them. We’re so close and tight-knit. Now you just try to get better and help the team.”
Hirschfeld played three years at Northview and was the Wildcats’ team captain in 2005-06. He then went on to a four-year college career at Miami. In 134 games, he had 35 goals and 35 assists.
Hirschfeld said this Toledo team is one of the deepest and most confident he’s seen in his career.
“This team is off to a great start and that’s the most important thing,” Hirschfeld said. “Every one is on the same page. They’re putting the team first. We know the goal and the destination. It’s a long process. But this is a competitive group of guys. Everyone wants to win as a team. We’ve all bought in to working hard and putting the team first.”
On The Hook: Alden Hirschfeld
■ Position: Forward
■ Ht./Wt.: 6-1, 206
■ Jersey No.: 23
■ Hometown: Sylvania
■ Age: 28
■ Why do you wear that jersey number? It was one of the choices I had when I went to Miami. I enjoyed it so much, I stuck with it. When I've been up in Grand Rapids, I've flip-flopped to 32.
■ Favorite hockey website: TSN.ca
■ Website: Bass Pro Shops
■ Best ECHL city (other than Toledo): Charleston
■ Best ECHL uniform (other than Walleye): Brampton with the big Beasts on the front
■ Best NHL uniform: Maple Leafs
■ NHL rivalry: Chicago and St. Louis
■ Person you text the most? My dad and my two brothers (group text).
■ Least favorite chore? Dusting
■ Pet peeve: People lying
■ Favorite type of pizza? Meat lovers with banana peppers
■ What was your first car? Jeep Grand Cherokee
■ If you could have a superpower what would it be? Teleportation (to the past)
■ If you could go back and attend any historic sporting event what would it be? 1980 Miracle on Ice
■ Favorite sport other than hockey: Fishing
■ Favorite type of music: Country
■ Favorite beverage: Water
■ Best fast food: Chick-fil-A
■ Favorite movie: Dumb and Dumber
■ Favorite TV show: BBQ Pitmasters
■ Favorite video game: Call of Duty
■ Do you have a Twitter account? @aldenhirschfeld
■ Person you most admire: Dad, Glen
■ If you could meet any person, dead or alive, who would it be? My dad’s dad, Papaw
■ Favorite place you've been to? Hawaii
■ Nickname: Hirschbilly or Billy
■ Hidden talent: Cooking and barbeque
Toledo’s Alden Hirschfeld, with the puck, has made a remarkable recovery from brain surgery earlier this year to being one of the Walleye’s team leaders so far this season. BLADE/ANDY MORRISON