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Alden Hirschfeld's college hockey career didn't exactly start with a bang at Miami University.
More like a ding and a crack.
In the RedHawks' first practice of the season last fall, the Sylvania native and Northview graduate fractured his arm after striking it on the goal post.
Hirschfeld was forced to miss the first two and a half months of his freshman season, returning in the first weekend of December against Western Michigan.
"It actually was the very first drill of my first college practice," Hirschfeld said of his injury. "I was going wide around the defenseman and ran into the goalpost. I didn't know it was broken. I thought I just kind of hurt it a little bit. It was the first day with coaches, so I didn't want to go off the ice."
After the conclusion of practice, however, trainers had Hirschfeld go in for an x-ray, which discovered the fracture.
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"It was kind of a tough way to start the year," Hirschfeld said. "There's obviously a little bit of frustration and disappointment, but at the same time, it's a part of the game."
The delay proved to be worth the wait as Hirschfeld was part of the RedHawks' remarkable run to the national title game, where they ultimately lost 4-3 in heartbreaking fashion to Boston University in overtime.
Miami looked poised to claim its first national championship in any team sport with a 3-1 advantage late in the third period, but the Terriers stormed back with two goals in the final minute of play.
Then in overtime, a slap shot from Colby Cohen deflected off the leg of Miami defenseman
Kevin Roeder, who was sliding in an attempt to block the shot, and fluttered into the net 11:47 into overtime.
"It's tough to explain everything we went through emotionally," Hirschfeld said. "It's a difficult situation to think back on.
"Our defenseman went down to block a shot, just like any other play, and then we get a bad bounce and the goalie couldn't see it. I mean, it's part of the game, but at that point the feeling was just probably the worst feeling I've ever felt. You're not quite sure how to react. You just kind of let it all out there - tears, whatever. You can't believe it at the time, but you know, it happened."
Sitting in the stands, Hirschfeld's parents, Traci and Glen, and the rest of the Miami fans were just as stunned.
"It would have been great just to give Miami some of the notoriety that it deserves," said Glen Hirschfeld, who played tight end at Miami and was named to the All-MAC first team in 1985. "Personally, it was frustrating, but from an emotional standpoint, you knew how difficult it was going to be for the young men on the team to accept.
"But it was a great experience. I've never had the opportunity to really sit and watch my son play in front of 18 or 19 thousand people. It was an electric environment and a lot of fun."
Despite the anguish of coming so close to a national title, Hirschfeld has plenty of fond memories to look back on from the Frozen Four, including scoring a goal in the semifinal against Bemidji State.
"It was definitely pretty cool," Hirschfeld said. "It was definitely one of the more fun goals that I've scored, but winning as a team was much more enjoyable."
Hirschfeld also has a bright future with a successful freshman campaign to build on. Despite playing in only 16 games, Hirschfeld finished the season with five goals and one assist with a plus-three rating playing in arguably the nation's top college hockey conference, the Central Collegiate Hockey Association, against the likes of Michigan, Notre Dame and Ohio State.
"Overall I'd say it was an awesome experience," said Hirschfeld, who played mostly as a third or fourth-line forward for the RedHawks. "It was a great freshman year. The coaches and the upperclassmen really made it an easy transition to come in and play at the college level."
After playing for legendary coach Jim Cooper at Northview and helping lead the Wildcats to a state runner-up finish his senior year in 2006, Hirschfeld joined the Mahoning Valley Phantoms of the North American Hockey League for two seasons.
He racked up 21 goals and 27 assists in 61 games his first year with the Phantoms, who are based out of Youngstown, and tallied 14 goals and 24 assists in 43 games in the 2007-08 season.
Now one year later, Hirschfeld found himself on the biggest stage in college hockey at the Frozen Four in Washington.
"It was unbelievable," Hirschfeld said. "The school has never made it that far, so it was a first for everyone. It was a great experience for us, and hopefully we'll be back there for sure in the future."
He also had plenty of rooting interest back home in northwest Ohio.
"I must have talked to friends and coaches from growing up everyday since we were in Minneapolis at the [NCAA] West Regional," Hirschfeld said. "The support from the people back home has been awesome. Just getting messages and phone calls saying, 'We'll be watching,' or 'We have our Miami shirts on,' it's pretty special to know that they're still supporting me and my team."
Contact Zach Silka at: firstname.lastname@example.org.