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The paths of former Northview High School hockey teammates Alden Hirschfeld and Tyler Pilmore have followed an unlikely, circular migration from the cozy confines of Tam-O-Shanter to the grand stage of the Huntington Center.
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The forwards from Sylvania soaked in the atmosphere of rivalry games at the rink where both had spent countless hours learning the nuances of the sport.
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Now the young players are back together, joining forces with their hometown professional team. They will suit up with the Toledo Walleye when the puck drops for the home opener Oct. 26.
“You're goal is always to win a championship,” Pilmore said. “But to do it at the professional level and for your own home team and with your good buddy that you went to high school with, is something you'd see in a movie plot. It would be unbelievable.”
They first played together in 2005 for Northview when Hirschfeld was a junior and Pilmore a freshman.
Hirschfeld, who helped lead the Wildcats to the state title game in 2006, went on to a productive career at Miami University. Pilmore played one season at Northview and had a stellar career at Ohio University.
They signed to play with the Walleye this offseason.
Hirschfeld said his Walleye teammates are shocked that he and Pilmore were high school teammates.
“They can't believe we played here in high school,” Hirschfeld said. “So this is pretty unique.”
Pilmore and Hirschfeld have come back in the summers to train with each other at Tam-O-Shanter.
“We didn't just go out and skate,” Pilmore said. “We went out with specific goals to get better. Alden is an extremely hard worker. We pushed each other to get to the next level.”
Hirschfeld said Pilmore has always been a hard worker.
“We make each other better,” Hirschfeld said. “He's a good person to train with. I knew he wanted do to keep playing and we helped each other out. He's doing all the right things.”
But both players never even entertained the thought of one day playing together professionally.
“But the Walleye turned out to be a great fit for both of us,” Pilmore said.
“We never really talked about it. But it's pretty neat,” Hirschfeld said.
Walleye coach Nick Vitucci called it a great story.
"I think that anytime a kid can play for his hometown team at a high level, I think that’s a neat thing on a lot of different levels," Vitucci said.
Hirschfeld and Pilmore agree former longtime Northview coach Jim Cooper provided a foundation.
“I give a lot of credit to this room,” said Hirschfeld, while reminiscing about his high school days in the Northview dressing room. “I was able to get to play for my high school with my best friends.”
Pilmore said it was a difficult decision to leave the Northview program to play travel hockey for the Toledo Junior Cherokee his last three years in high school.
“At the end of the day, there just weren't as many games in high school and I wanted to become a better hockey player,” he said.
Pilmore said he remembers looking up to Hirschfeld.
“Alden was one of our best players and I watched and tried to emulate him,” Pilmore said. “I wanted to be him a couple years down the road. I'll always cherish those memories. I took a lot from those coaches.”
Cooper said he is thrilled that two of his players will be reunited in the pro ranks.
“They are a couple of talented kids. I guess I didn't mess them up too bad,” Cooper joked. “I'm so proud of them.”
He said their success is a great source of pride for the local youth and high school hockey community.
“Make no mistake they are there because they both possess characteristics that are common in all successful athletes,” Cooper said said. “They have the right body, the right character, and the right skill set and determination. These are kids who don't know the word quit.”
Both players said current Wildcats coach Mike Jones, a Northview grad who played five seasons of pro hockey, was a concrete example of future possibilities. Jones would come back and talk to the players in the program.
“I'd come down and skate with them,” Jones said. “The kids just loved seeing it. It's in your face. It's not on TV. You are next to it. They realized it's not impossible.”
Jones spent his first pro season with the Detroit Vipers in the International Hockey League. He then played four seasons in the ECHL.
“He was someone who had made it and that's what your goal was,” Hirschfeld said. “So I learned all sorts of stuff from him on the ice and off the ice. He told us to do a little more than anyone else. Jonesy told me I was good enough. He really helped me understand how it all works.”
Pilmore said Jones made becoming a professional player a possibility.
“As you watch the Red Wings growing up, you imagine them as these mythical creatures that would never be attainable,” he said. “It made us realize that we could get there some day if you work hard enough.”
Jones said if he had a chance to rewind the clock he wished he would have a similar chance to play for his hometown team.
“To see them succeed and achieve does nothing but raise the brand of high school hockey in northwest Ohio,” Jones said. “It will be cool for them to compete for their city. They love being here.”
He said he plans to take his players to see the alums play for the Walleye.
“They will see if they work their tails off that maybe that's them someday,” Jones said.
Jones said he has already warned the local players of a good problem they will face — demands for tickets from friends and family. He said he remembered being hounded when he was playing for the Vipers.
“It got to the point where I would tell people they would have to call my mother,” Jones said. “They'd call my mom and she'd give me a number.”
Hirschfeld said he is sure his ticket allotment will go quickly.
Pilmore finished his college career as the leading scorer in Ohio University hockey history with 227 points. Pilmore made his pro debut in Toledo last season. He was signed by the Wheeling Nailers and played against the Walleye on March 16. He called signing with Toledo “an easy decision.”
“They didn't have to sell us too much. It's a state of the art facility and it's a great organization with great players,” he said.
Vitucci credited the local youth hockey associations and high school coaches for instilling passion in players like Pilmore and Hirschfeld.
"It’s great that these guys got an education through hockey," Vitucci said.
Everyone knows Hirschfeld at Tam-O-Shanter. He's greeted by no fewer than 15 people on a normal Thursday afternoon as he makes his way to the dressing room to train.
“Tam-O is like a second home to me. That's part of the reason why it's so cool to play here,” he said. “You feel the support.”
Hirschfeld said he was 3 when he started taking lessons from local instructor Monica Jablonski, the wife of former Toledo Blades and Hornets legend forward Greg Jablonski.
“When I'd see an NHL game on TV, I'd just stare,” Hirschfeld said. “And then when they'd turn it off I would start crying. I told my mom that's what I wanted to do.”
Hirschfeld said no one else in his family had played hockey. His father, Glen, played football at Miami University and was an All-Mid-American Conference tight end.
“My brother played soccer and basketball. I was the only hockey player,” he said.
Hirschfeld also was a rink manager at Tam-O-Shanter.
“I was here all the time. When I was working I would be trying to get on the ice,” he said. “Now I'm still here in the summers. I can't imagine actually adding up the hours I've spent in this building.”
Hirschfeld was a team captain at Miami and helped lead the RedHawks to a CCHA championship in 2011. He appeared in 134 games over four seasons and tallied 70 points. He turned pro in 2012, signing a contract with Providence of the American Hockey League. He split his first pro season between Providence and its ECHL team, the South Carolina Stingrays.
There remains a distinct possibility that Hirschfeld will not be in Toledo long.
“He has experinece in the American Hockey League so he has an opporunity to go back up because of that," Vitucci said. "It's great if he does."
He is not under contract with any AHL team.
“I'm thankful and blessed I've been able to make it to the pro level,” Hirschfeld said. “It's something not a lot of people get to do.”