A sea of red shirts flooded the Smith Elementary gymnasium in Plymouth on Thursday as former Detroit Red Wing Jiri Fischer and the Red Wings Assembly Team introduced students to the sport of hockey and encouraged an active and healthy lifestyle.
The message of maintaining health hits home for Fischer, who survived his own health scare in 2005 when he suffered cardiac arrest and collapsed on the bench during a game against the Nashville Predators.
The incident ended Fischer's playing career and he said he uses his experience to teach others to not take things for granted.
"When anybody is a survivor of any life-threatening condition, from cardiac to cancer to other things, you look back at maybe what I could have done and what I didn't do," he said. Instead, he said, it's more effective to teach others to overcome adversity.
Seven and a half years after the incident, Fischer, 32, is living in Northville, free of the symptoms that ended his playing career. He remains involved with the Red Wings organization as director of player development, scouting hockey talent around the world for one of the sport's best-known teams.
While Fischer's globe-trotting day job has its perks, he said putting on the winged wheel jersey again in front of a group of excited young fans was special.
"I travel around the world most of the season and go to see all the drafted players we have all over the world, from Finland to Sweden to Russia to all over North America from Halifax to Vancouver, so the territory's pretty broad," he said. "But being here in the Red Wings jersey, it's pretty nice."
On Thursday, Fischer and a group of "coaches" making up the Detroit Red Wings Assembly Team served as ambassadors for the sport, introducing hundreds of elementary school students to basic hockey skills, such as stickhandling, and encouraged healthy and active lifestyles.
"We try to open people's eyes, especially the little kids, and get them excited about moving and eating healthy with fresh fruits and veggies," Fischer said.
Fischer regaled students with stories of the euphoria he experienced when he and Red Wings won the Stanley Cup in 2002—which he characterized as his "secret dream" as a child—while he and the assembly team shared with students lessons on education, dedication and striving for personal goals.
The high-energy assembly was capped with a floor hockey shootout pitting students against teachers. Fischer participated for the students' team, which won, 3-2. Afterwards, the Red Wings Assembly Team surprised students by donating two hockey nets, a hockey stick set and a banner to the school.
Thursday's visit was one of 115 the Assembly Team has conducted throughout the 2012-13 school year. The squad will return to Plymouth on Feb. 13, when it will visit Bird Elementary. The guest player for that visit has not yet been announced.