FDNY-NYPD hockey game returns after pandemic interruption

The FDNY and NYPD hockey teams participate in several tournaments throughout the year, but one game matters more to both teams than to all the others.

So when the annual “Hockey Heroes” game between the first responder teams, in honor of September 11, was canceled last year due to the coronavirus pandemic, it looked like a punch in the guts.

NYPD leads all-time streak with FDNY, 25-18-2.
JoAnn Esposito / The Madison Square Garden Company

“Our entire season is really just for this game,” Fire Lt. Joseph Sanger told The Post by telephone on Wednesday. “It doesn’t matter what tournaments we play in, what tournaments we win or lose, how we do in our men’s league that we play in. It basically comes down to this one game.”

The FDNY and NYPD will return to the ice Thursday night at Madison Square Garden, in honor of the 20th anniversary of September 11 with a special pre-game ceremony starting at 7:30 p.m. And, for the first time in its 47-year history, the game will air live, on ESPN2, at 8 p.m.

Tickets are still available and tickets for the previously scheduled 2020 game will be reissued.

All guests will be required to provide proof – of COVID-19 vaccination for ages 12 and over, or negative COVID-19 testing for children ages 4 to 11.

NYPD-FDNY Hockey Heroes Charity Game
NYPD gambling isn’t such a light affair – it’s “punch” according to one participant.
JoAnn Esposito / The Madison Square Garden Company

FDNY currently leads the all-time streak with 25 wins against 18 for the NYPD, with two games ending in ties.

The two teams will pay tribute to those lost in the terrorist attacks and to all those who have died since 2001 from illnesses linked to September 11. Firefighters and police officers lost in the line of duty over the past two years will also be remembered, and the proceeds will be donated to various charities, including the Ray Pfeifer Foundation, which helps 9/11 first responders achieve medical needs not covered by insurance, and the PBA Widows and Children Fund.

Detective Mark Gurleski, who also plays the left-winger role, said he would describe the event as “the most intense charity hockey game you’ve ever seen.”

“Everyone hears charity games and they think it will be like people laughing, having fun on the ice, taking pictures and stuff like that,” said Gurleski, from Seaford on Long Island. “But they don’t realize it’s like a ruthless game where we go out and kill each other.”

Sanger, a 37-year-old advocate from Staten Island, said he expects the return of the event to mean a lot to attendees after what the city’s first responders endured last year. While Sanger was not on the ground in the aftermath of the attacks that destroyed the World Trade Center Twin Towers, his father was.

NYPD-FDNY Hockey Heroes Charity Game
FDNY skaters are set to get back on the ice after their 2020 game is canceled due to COVID-19.
JoAnn Esposito / The Madison Square Garden Company

“I will never forget coming home two or three days after 9/11 and seeing a grown man sitting there with a list of names that were missing at the time, with tears in his eyes,” he said. Sanger said. “Say, ‘I just lost all my friends.’ So that means a lot [to be involved].

“The words ‘never forget’ are instilled in us because we go to work every day, we see the names on the signs of people who couldn’t make it home that day. It means a lot when we hear the words never forget because you always want to remember them.

Catherine J. Martinez