Jiri Fischer Giving Back to Hockey
BUFFALO, N.Y. -- Jiri Fischer knows what it means to want do something meaningful with your life after going through a life-threatening situation.
Fischer was on the verge of becoming a top NHL defenseman with the Detroit Red Wings when he nearly died five years ago. He collapsed in convulsions after going into cardiac arrest on the bench during a game against Nashville at Joe Louis Arena.
He had no pulse and people feared there was no hope, but team doctors saved his life by performing CPR on the bench.
It was during his time in a cardiac rehabilitation program that Fischer decided he wanted to make a difference and he wanted it to be in hockey.
Fischer is at the World Junior Championship as an assistant coach with the Czech Republic. He likes working with the teenage players, giving them tips that will hopefully help them along the road to a successful pro career.
"I noticed in general, when I was going to cardiac rehab, that people who had been though life-altering things, cancer, cardiac problems, the people who survive those things certainly appreciate life more," said Fischer.
"Part of that is just being happy and I do not think it is any different for me. It goes through phases and the first impact was losing my career and losing something that I have always worked for was very tough."
When his contract expired with the Red Wings, general manager Ken Holland offered him a job as the director of player development. He works with the Red Wings' minor league team in Grand Rapids, Mich., and keeps tabs on drafted players in all corners of the hockey map.
"Some I go on the ice with. Some I go into the gym with and some I just monitor to see how they are doing," said Fischer. "Being on the ice, being with the guys is a better feeling than being in the stands."
Fischer runs the defense for the Czech junior team at the ten-team best-on-best tournament. He talks to his players about positioning and tries to get the match-ups he wants during the game.
His other role is to talk to the Czech teenagers about which road they should take to the NHL.
"I try to pass on experience from the NHL, from going through playing junior in North America, and passing that experience on. I am not that much older than the players and there is only 10 years between us," he said. "It is nice to feel there is something I can share and if I can help the guys broaden their view of things, all the better."
The issue of whether Europeans and especially draft-eligible teenagers should stay home to hone their skills or pack their bags for Canada and the United States to play junior hockey is one that is hotly debated on both sides of the Atlantic.
Those who think the Europeans should stay look at the ratio between the number of games in Europe versus the larger number of practices, and suggest staying at home is the way to go.
The flip side, the pro-North America part of the equation, says more games equal better on-the-job training.
Fischer left home in his teens and played two seasons for Hull of the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. He was a first-round pick, 25th overall, by the Red Wings in 1998.
"I always look at it from a players perspective and from a players perspective it is a very individual and it depends on the situation they are in,'' said Fischer.
Twelve of the Czech players at the World Junior Championship play in North America, and Fischer admits the exodus has depleted the talent pool in his homeland.
But the exodus is not limited to teenagers.
There are 36 Czechs in the NHK this season, with another two dozen in the American Hockey League, along with 75 in Russia's Kontinental Hockey League and leagues in Sweden and Finland.
It has been a handful of years since the Czechs won a medal at the World Juniors and a decade since they won their last gold medal.
Fischer wants to be part of rebuilding the Czech program. He sees it as a way to give back to the game he loves.
"What I went through helped me gain more perspective on enjoying important moments."