All throughout our lives we must face adversity. It comes in many forms: moving to a new school, dealing with a bully, managing college courses, or battling though illness to name a few. Every person that you meet, or even see, in our world have their own demons to face every day. We all fight to achieve our goals while overcoming the challenges put in our way. Professional athletes are no different in this regard, where they differ is the attention that their adversity receives. When they rise to the occasion, athletes can inspire others to do the same. One particular member of the Toledo Walleye has battled adversity like no other, and has inspired hockey fans across Michigan and Ohio. Alden Hirschfeld took the ice this season after recovering from brain surgery over six months ago. During Toledo’s first game of the regular season, he scored the Walleye’s first goal. Hirschfeld is not just a Toledo Walleye; he is a Warrior.
Early in his career Hirschfeld found great success with relatively little resistance. Alden was born in Dallas, Texas to Glen and Traci Hirschfeld but grew up in Sylvania, Ohio where he played hockey for Sylvania Northview High School. Hirschfeld captained Northview to the state title game during his senior season (2005-06), scoring 64 goals that year which earned him the Mr. Hockey Ohio award. The award is given to the top high school hockey player in Ohio. After high school Alden played junior hockey with the Mahoning Valley Phantoms, a member of the North American Hockey League (NAHL) located in Ohio, for two seasons between 2006-2008. During his junior years Hirschfeld scored 86 points with 35 goals over the course of 104 games, once again showing off his offensive prowess. This would be a recurring theme for Hirsch during his amateur career. Following Junior hockey, the next stop was college play at Miami (OH) University. While a Miami Redhawk Hirschfeld played in four seasons, appearing in the national championship game as a freshman (08-09), helping Miami win the 2011 Central Collegiate Hockey Association (CCHA) tournament, and serving as an Alternate Captain and Captain during his junior and senior year respectively. By the end of his collegiate career Hirschfeld scored 70 points over 134 games played, solidifying his reputation as a point producer. But now it was time for the pro leagues and the biggest challenge of his career.
During the 2011-12 AHL season Hirschfeld got a small taste of professional hockey when he appeared in one game for the Portland Pirates. The following year is when Alden really broke through, playing in 55 games between the AHL Providence Bruins and the ECHL South Carolina Stingrays. Then Alden finally got the chance to play for his hometown Walleye. During the offseason between the 2013 playoffs and 2014 season he joined the Toledo Walleye, where he would end up splitting games between Toledo and the AHL affiliate Grand Rapids Griffins for the next two seasons. Hirschfeld had reached the high point in his professional career, with only the normal bumps and bruises experienced by all hockey players. By this point in his professional career he had 120 career points across 221 games played. Adversity, however, finally caught up with Alden on January 8, 2016 while playing a game for the Griffins against the Milwaukee Admirals. Late in the second period Alden suffered a seizure on the bench and collapsed. Play was immediately stopped as the medical staff attended to him. Both teams were sent to their locker rooms, and Hirschfeld was stabilized before being stretchered off the ice and taken to a nearby hospital. This was the end of hockey for Hirschfeld during the 2015-16 season, and many thought he would have to hang up the skates altogether. Testing showed that there was a malformation in the left temporal lobe of Hirschfeld’s brain that was responsible for the seizure. So Alden had a choice to make: risk brain surgery to end the possibility of seizures that could also restart his hockey career, or avoid a dangerous procedure that could lead to serious unforeseen consequences in order to be there for his family. After all, at this point in his life Alden had to be concerned for the welfare if his wife and child, his child was a little over a year old. On March 14th, his decision was set into motion and Alden underwent brain surgery.
The procedure used is called a craniotomy, which includes the removal of a piece of skull to gain access to the brain, followed by the removal of the malformed section of the temporal lobe. Following the surgery Hirschfeld returned home to Sylvania to recover with his family. Since the procedure there has been no reoccurrence of seizures, and no emergence of surgical complications. Step one was complete for Alden, to receive treatment and recover. Next up on the list? Return to hockey. Alden began training late in May to return to the sport he loved. Motivated by family, friends, teammates past and present, Hirsch regained the strength and conditioning needed to play professional hockey. After months of work all he needed was medical clearance. And he got it. On October 3rd, 2016 Alden Hirschfeld and the Toledo Walleye announced they had agreed to terms for the 2016-17 season. He participated in the Walleye training camp and preseason games against Kalamazoo, and rode with the team down to Atlanta to begin the season on the road as a first line center. During Toledo’s first game of the year against the Gladiators Hirschfeld scored the first goal for the Walleye shortly into the second period to cut the deficit 2-1. Though the Walleye would go on to lose their opener 4-1, what Hirschfeld accomplished that October 14th night will never be forgotten by the team and fans alike. Through three games Hirsch has five points with two goals and a +/- of 4. The courage and resolve that he has shown throughout this process is profound, and nobody could think of a better way to start the year than with his goal. Hopefully he can be properly rewarded with a Kelly Cup this year. Hirschfeld stands as an inspiration to not only the Toledo Walleye, but anyone who has had to deal with adversity throughout their life. He could have let his condition beat him, instead Hirsch used it to make him stronger. Toledo’s home opener is this Saturday, October 22nd. I cannot wait to hear the crowd as Alden Hirschfeld is introduced to the Huntington Center once again. Not just as a Toledo Walleye though, as a Toledo Warrior.
Information about Hirscfeld’s Career, Surgery and Recovery were obtained from the following:
Career Stats and Teams:
Specific Stats and Awards:
Seizure at the Game Coverage:
Fantastic Toledo Blade Articles Covering the ordeal Written by Mark Monroe:
Toledo Walleye News Section on their website:
Pictures provided by Jarrod Maneval unless otherwise stated.
Picture from Hirschfeld’s surgery from his Twitter: