Brian Birkhoff, the unsuspecting hockey player

“I would clench my toes when my feet would go into my skates just to avoid having to go on the ice.”

What started out with apprehension for Brian Birkhoff has become a career and passion.

Peterborough Petes Alumnus Birkhoff recalls his earliest days hitting the ice.

“My parents put me into a hockey camp and my uncle would take me and help me get dressed because I was seven or eight.”

Regardless of the arena-driven jitters, the Birkhoff family kept bringing Brian to the rink and the future Pete soon picked up a fondness for the game. When he was 16 years old, the Ottawa 67’s used their 11th round pick on the defenceman from Richmond Hill, Ontario. He made the 67’s roster out of his second training camp.

“I genuinely had the training camp of my life,” Birkhoff said.

On Jan. 10, 2010, the Petes acquired Birkhoff from Ottawa in exchange for a fifth round pick in the 2010 OHL Priority Selection.

Despite being shocked by the news, Birkhoff knew he was going to an organization backed by fans.

“I was dating a girl from Ottawa. I was 18, maybe 19 years old… I thought I was in love,” Birkhoff said with a smile.

“From what I heard, it was a great organization that had a tsunami of support.”

Nowadays, the member of the 2009-10 Petes continues to see a lot of hockey. He is an official in the Greater Toronto Hockey League and a player safety officer for the Swiss National Hockey League.

The latter position came about when an old friend, who had retired after playing 17 seasons in Switzerland, reached out to Birkhoff in 2019.

“The Swiss League has a player safety department, but nothing like the NHL,” Birkhoff said.

The buddy asked Birhoff if he would like to join the department to which Birkhoff agreed. Birkhoff is one of five people who comprise the department.

With the help of the internet, Birkhoff is able to watch games on the computer.

“It’s a great way to get into the management side of hockey,” Birkhoff said. “If it means moving up the ranks of the Swiss league, that would be pretty cool.”

Birkhoff is familiar with the European style of play and the bigger, wider rinks. In 2017, he signed with the Harlev Eagles to play in the top Danish Hockey League. The former Pete brought a physical presence to the ice unappreciated by league officials.

“Fighting over there is very frowned upon. I fought a couple times and you just get a game ejection,” Birkhoff said. “There’s no, ifs, ands or buts.”

The rugged blueliner enjoyed exploring the European cities across Norway, Denmark, and Sweden.

“I would start the conversation trying to speak Swedish, and they’d pick you out like a sore thumb and they’d start speaking English to you,” Birkhoff stated.

Regardless of the language used, Birkhoff holds the people he spoke with in the highest regard. He admitted that Copenhagen is his “second-favorite place on the planet” with first being “the Netherlands.”

Today, Birkhoff is enjoying life in Ontario and is always willing to help those in his community. He is currently applying to become a firefighter.

“The idea of helping people when they are potentially at their worst really resonated with me as something that could be so rewarding,” Birkhoff said.

“As a guy who has played team sports his entire life, the idea of continuing to be a part of a team and working with that team towards a common goal is one of the main reasons I want to do this job.”

If not for those toe-clenching sessions with his uncle, the game wouldn’t have been able to teach Birkhoff about the value of teamwork.

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