DETROIT -- There's not a day that passes that Jiri Fischer doesn't realize how fortunate he is to be alive and still involved in the sport he loves, even if it's now in the front office rather than on the ice.
But Tuesday afternoon at a snowy Comerica Park, Fischer found himself back in a Detroit Red Wings uniform, skating with some of the biggest names in the history of the Original Six franchise.
It was a fairy tale indeed, and became even more so when Fischer scored in the first period of Detroit's 5-4 victory against the Toronto Maple Leafs in the first game of the Alumni Showdown as part of the festivities leading up to the 2014 Bridgestone NHL Winter Classic, which will be played Wednesday at Michigan Stadium in Ann Arbor.
"Do I celebrate? Do I not? Is it going to be embarrassing? Is it not? [But] it felt great," Fischer said. "That was maybe the last goal in a Red Wings uniform for most of us to score. It was a lot of fun."
Fischer also is having a lot of fun in his role as director of player development for the Red Wings, a position he's held for six seasons. The 33-year-old was forced to retire after nearly dying during a game against the Nashville Predators in 2005, when he suffered a seizure on Detroit's bench. His heart stopped, but doctors and emergency attendants were able to bring Fischer back to life with the help of an automated external defibrillator. He was 25 at the time.
A first-round pick by Detroit (No. 25) at the 1998 NHL Draft, Fischer saw his playing career end after 305 games. Today he can't push his body to the limit the way he used to, but Fischer said he goes to the gym regularly.
"One of the restrictions is not to play in the NHL," Fischer said. "That's the main one. I exercise to have fun, not really to chase records anymore. Fitness became kind of a passion, how to feel good instead of trying to compete at the highest level."
Fischer's front-office position allows him to skate occasionally while working with Detroit's prospects. And with several former teammates still living in the area, he sometimes skates with them at Joe Louis Arena, the place where his career -- and almost his life -- came to an end.
"I get on the ice with some of the guys in development camp," Fischer said. "It was a great idea that Kris Draper started about a month ago that a bunch of us get together and skate at [Joe Louis Arena]. We get together a few times and it's a lot of fun.
"It's outstanding. I get to interact with the coaches and [Red Wings coach] Mike Babcock is obviously a special guy. It's a lot of fun the way we get treated by ownership and Kenny [Red Wings general manager Ken Holland] giving me the opportunity to work for him is outstanding. Being in the press box with him for some of the home games when I'm not traveling, it's just like going to Harvard and learning. It's a lot of fun.
"I got a second chance right off the bat. The heart didn't change in a way that would allow me to participate in pro hockey again and I went in the front office. After the first couple of years I really got a knack for how to deal with all different individualities and the guys that we draft. It's really about the guys and their progress and I try to help them out. I try to jumpstart the process, getting the pro habits down, lifestyle to the routine that everybody has to go through every day. It's really passing down the experience to some of the guys so hopefully by the time the lucky few are going to turn pro they're going to be a little bit ahead of the game. It's very rewarding."
With Fischer's help Tuesday the Red Wings built an early 2-0 lead on goals from Fischer and Aaron Ward. Stew Gavin and Todd Warriner scored for Toronto later in the first period to erase the deficit, but Petr Klima gave the Red Wings a 3-2 lead with less than two minutes left in the first. Pat Verbeek and Ward scored before the midway point of the second to make it 5-2.
Brad May got the Maple Leafs back to within two with 6:41 left in the second and Tom Fergus made it a one-goal game about three minutes later.
But Fischer and the Red Wings were able to hold on to win the opening game of the Alumni Showdown, a game and an afternoon Fischer won't forget anytime soon.
"It was outstanding," Fischer said. "The weather couldn't be any better, the atmosphere was awesome. Toronto kept coming on strong at the end so it made it really challenging. It was a lot of fun."