When asked about the NYPD vs FDNY hockey game, Wayne Gretzky—arguably the greatest player in the history of the sport—simply said, “This game is a full-on war and I’m glad I’m not playing in it.”
The Great One, who rarely missed a shot during his 21-year NHL career, was right on target yet again. This match is more than just two teams competing for a victory. Ask any member of either team and they will tell you it is 100% about honoring the men and women of the FDNY and NYPD who gave their lives in the line of duty. And with the next breath, they will tell you it is also 100% about beating the opposing squad. It is about honoring the families of those that served, and about protecting and providing for those that are no longer able to serve. And honestly, it is also about bragging rights.
The two sides of that puck are evident from the opening drop to the final buzzer. These men know that this is a game with a much greater purpose. They all want to raise funds for numerous charities, and they all want to flex on their opponent. HAIX® has been involved in the game for six years. This year, we spent some time getting to know the men that may play in different jerseys but share a common thread.
George Antzoulis, a self-proclaimed “big locker room guy”, likes to keep it light before games, making jokes and keeping the “vibes right”. Affectionately known as “The Big Greek”, his 6’5 frame delivered some equally big hits. When asked about the meaning of this game, Antzoulis said “[It] means everything man. We put in a lot of months, a lot of time away from our family, away from our kids, away from work. We put a lot of time and money into it, a lot of effort. We do it for everyone in the locker room you know; for each other. But we are not just here to skate out. We are here to play hard and make it count.”
Aiden Boehm is the youngest player to suit up for either team. At 24 years of age, he has logged 2 years of service as a NYPD officer. Boehm scored in the third quarter, which at that time brought the Finest to within one goal, earning him the title of the squad’s “unsung hero” according to Paul Bissonnette, game announcer and former NHL-player. Before the game, Boehm said he likes to sit in the stands and watch the ice with some music, then go through his stretches and warmups. As a second-generation police officer, Boehm can attest to the toll service in the NYPD and FDNY can take on a family. His father retired as a lieutenant with the NYPD. “We’re playing for the families of the fallen,” he said. “And for these three hours every single year, they can come here and hopefully, kind of, forget about the past and just focus on this game.”
At 44 years young, Lydell Harrigan has been a serving NYPD officer for 21 years—almost as many years as his teammate Aiden Boehm has been alive. Harrigan is an Assistant Captain on the Finest’s squad and contributed to the game with some impressive defense, especially down the stretch during NYPD’s impressive comeback attempt. He credits his gameplay to getting his mind right before a match, limiting his mistakes. And like his fellow officers, Harrigan understands they play for something bigger than the blocks and body-blows he dished out. “We play for the families. The children, widows and all the family members that lost family in the line of duty” he said. “Playing this game—I'm playing for them.”
Joey Gilhooly was buzzing before the game. The young firefighter, whose father was a NYPD officer, says he likes to shower, tape the twigs, meditate, and visualize prior to the game. This is his first year on the FDNY hockey team, and he made it count. He delivered the game’s first massive hit at center ice and followed up with two goals to help build the fire department’s lead. When asked by the broadcast team about the physicality of NYPD, Gilhooly replied “If they wanna go, we’ll get to it later but we wanna make sure we win it first.”
Matt Zay, sporting a pre-game black eye and recently recovered from a broken ankle, was all business prior to the game. He told HAIX® his normal routine is putting new laces in his skates, taping up his sticks and taking a nap. Zay, who scored the second goal for FDNY and the second goal of the contest, looked to be anything but tired. Bissonnette called Zay the “Swiss-army knife” of the team and this third-year player demonstrated his numerous skills throughout the game.
John Parretta, like many of the players, likes to get loose with the boys, listen to music, and tape his sticks to get ready for the game. And with only 26 seconds remaining before the final buzzer, Parretta delivered the game's most memorable moment, landing blows on NYPD’s Jimmy Hall. Though this may have caught the attention of the internet, his comments from an earlier interview showed he knows it is what happens outside the 60-minutes of competition that has the true, lasting effect. “The Hockey game is great, but what really matters is what we do off the ice—all the fundraising and all the families we are able to help.”
The FDNY squad won the game for the sixth year in a row, with the final score 8-5. Though the Bravest took control of the game early, NYPD Finest team showed exceptional grit and determination, making the second and third periods fitting of this rivalry, which is known as the biggest amateur rivalry on planet earth. These men are certainly playing for something bigger than a game, themselves, or even their city. They are playing in honor of the fallen and HAIX® is honored to play a small part in support of the Bravest and the Finest.
For more information about some of the charities supported by this game or to donate resources, follow the links below.