Toledo Walleye forward and Sylvania native Alden Hirschfeld will hang up his skates and pick up a coaching whistle.
After playing in 200 games for his hometown professional team, the Northview High School graduate was named an assistant coach for the Walleye organization on Tuesday.
Hirschfeld played five seasons for the Walleye and served as team captain the last two seasons.
The 30-year-old said he has been dealing with some health issues related to epilepsy. He said it was his decision — and not that of doctors — to end his career.
“It was a tough decision to make. I still have it in me to play, but at the same time there are things regarding my health and epilepsy,” he said. “[Hockey] is something I've loved doing my whole life, so it's good being able to stay involved in the game. I'm ready to take the next step in my life.
“I've always been able to stay close to home and this is a great opportunity to continue to help a Toledo team. I hope to help bring Toledo a championship.”
Walleye coach Dan Watson called it a special day during a press conference announcing Hirschfeld's addition to his staff as an assistant along with associate head coach Andy Delmore.
“Alden is a guy who has represented Toledo, the city, and the Walleye organization extremely well the past five years,” Watson said. “He loves the game and he loves the city. He has an inner drive unlike anyone else I've seen in the sport.”
The local standout has endured a tumultuous last few years. The 6-foot-1, 205-pound forward battled through a serious medical scare when he suffered a seizure during a game Jan. 8, 2016, when he was playing for Toledo's American Hockey League affiliate in Grand Rapids.
Hirschfeld through the years: A family man away from the rink ■ Battling back from brain surgery ■ Hirschfeld named Walleye captain ■ A role model ■ Northview grad signs with Walleye ■ Sylvania native sends Miami to Frozen Four
Two months later, Hirschfeld had brain surgery to remove a malformation that had caused the seizure. Just five months after the operation, Hirschfeld was back skating. He returned the next season to have the best year of his career, playing in 55 games for the Walleye in 2016-17 and producing 49 points.
Then last November, Hirschfeld suffered a season-ending torn anterior cruciate ligament during a collision in a game at Wheeling. He became a player-coach for Watson, who called Hirschfeld's perseverance through a journey of adversity remarkable.
“He's been through a lot the last few years and he's a strong-willed individual,” Watson said. “He believes in his faith and he is an unbelievable family man. That has helped him persevere. His inner drive allows him to will himself though challenges. This will be a new and exciting challenge for him.”
Hirschfeld finishes his career ranked No. 4 on the Walleye's all-time games played list. He also ranks sixth in goals scored (59), is fourth in assists (94), and sits fourth in total points (153).
Hirschfeld also became highly respected in the dressing room during his playing career. Toledo forward A.J. Jenks played with Hirschfeld for the last four seasons with the Walleye and called him “a first-class person.”
“He commands instant respect when he comes in the room with his presence,” Jenks said. “Obviously as a player, he's done so much and accomplished so much for this team and the community. He's such an integral part of everything that goes on around here.
“Regardless of the role he is in, he will have always have a huge impact with his approach to everything. We're really lucky to have him here.”
Hirschfeld spent three years on the varsity at Northview under legendary local coach Jim Cooper, helping lead the Wildcats to the state title game in 2006 and earning Ohio’s Mr. Hockey honor as the state’s best player that season.
He played college hockey at Miami University in southwest Ohio and was a team captain for the RedHawks as a senior. Hirschfeld appeared in 134 games over four seasons and tallied 70 points. He played in the NCAA title game as a freshman.
His six seasons of pro hockey included stints with three different teams in the American Hockey League, just one level below the NHL. He embraced his role as a mentor and worked on his all-around game, including faceoffs, and became a key member of both of the Walleye's special teams units. Last season, he got the taste of coaching when he was behind the bench for six months.
“I got to learn and get an idea last season,” he said. “I guess everything happens for a reason. I'll continue to work hard and give it my best.”
Jenks called Hirschfeld's ability to endure setbacks an inspiration.
“He's definitely as resilient as they come,” Jenks said. “I've never met anyone who has had to handle such adversity and met it head on as admirably and professionally as he has. He's a huge inspiration to all of us.”
Former Walleye defenseman Simon Denis, who now is playing overseas, took to Twitter to honor his former captain. He called Hirschfeld “an incredible hockey player and even better person.”
Watson said it wasn't an easy decision for Hirschfeld to retire, but it was an easy decision to hire him.
“I love for him to get his feet wet here,” Watson said. “He's going to make our staff better and the players better. He's going to challenge us mentally. He's going to bring fresh ideas having just ended his playing career.”
Hirschfeld, who said he had always considered moving behind the bench after his playing career ended and even took a coaching class at Miami, believes Watson and Delmore are prefect mentors.
“I'm super excited for the future,” he said. “I've had an unbelievable career. My family has always supported me. I thank them all for giving me the love that has not only made me a better hockey player but a better person. I thank the fans and the community as well. I'm excited and motivated to continue my career in hockey and to move into coaching.”
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