The puck drops Saturday as New Haven police and fire vie for the Chief's Cup

NEW HAVEN — The puck drops Saturday for the Chief’s Cup, a faceoff between the New Haven Fire and Police Departments to benefit members of the community.

The 22nd Chief’s Cup, which pits New Haven police officers against New Haven firefighters on the ice, will be held March 24 at Yale University’s Ingalls Rink, 73 Sachem St. Tickets are a $20 donation for adults and free for children 12 and younger.

The Elm City Cup will be held at noon and a ceremony honoring the police officer of the year and firefighter of the year will follow that game. The action for the main event starts at 1:30 p.m.

About 15 to 20 years ago, the game was “a battle on the ice,” Assistant Police Chief Herb Johnson said, but recent game days are geared more toward kids and families. “Once we started raising money and both departments came to the table it was more about families. The competition starts when the puck drops but it’s really a great day for fire and police families to unwind.”

Proceeds from the event will be split equally between chosen beneficiaries from both agencies, who will be honored before the start of the Chief’s Cup. The donation goes toward whatever the beneficiary needs, Johnson said. This year, police have selected one of their own, Officer Anthony Magnano, to receive the donation.

Magnano, who’s worked with the department for more than three years, has been diagnosed with colitis, a disease that affects intestines. He had surgery to correct it but by that time it has spread to his colon and doctors had to remove it, Lt. Stephan Torquati said. Magnano is scheduled for another surgery and then is expected back on the force for full duty in the next couple of months. He comes from a long line of law enforcement, his father having worked with Hartford police and his sister working at the East Hartford Police Department.

“If we don’t have someone in an emergency, we go outside to see who can use the help,” Detective Dan Sacco said, adding it’s the players that really do all the work selling tickets and playing the game. Forty players combined skate for both teams, Sacco and Torquati included. They’ve done work with Yale New Haven Hospital in years past.

The NHFD beneficiary this year is the New Haven Firemen’s Benevolent Association, an organization that raises money to support fallen firefighters and their families. Lt. John Twohill, who will skate Saturday, said the department was lucky they didn’t have any of their members who needed the donation this year, so they decided to help an organization that helps their community.

“The Benevolent (Association) is so generous we figured we’d give back if anything happens to our guys,” Twohill said. “They donate so much to us we want to give back to them.”

Police vehicles and firetrucks will be parked in front of the rink for children to check out and, afterward, attendees can participate in an open skate with the players. There will also be a T-shirt toss and chuck-a-puck games for children.

Officer John Palmer will be honored as Police Officer of the Year. The 20-year NHPD veteran, who will skate in the Elm City Cup, serves in the motorcycle unit and worked with the U.S. Marshals task force prior to joining New Haven.

“He’s one of the most well respected people in the department,” Torquati said.

Battalion Chief Robert Ortiz, a 23-year NHFD veteran, will be honored as Firefighter of the Year. He is a long time member of the Hill Station Engine 11 and heavily involved with the community, Twohill said. Ortiz is “diligent,” Twhohill said, and has “dedication to the department and (is) one of the nicest guys on the job.”

“We get a good crowd from the community,” Torquati said, and the game “still gets heated.” Many of the police and fire members have been playing against each other for years, growing up together and facing each other in different leagues, he said.

The NHPD took the trophy last year and hopes to claim it again this year, Johnson said, and Sacco added their team has the edge because they have a lot of fresh, young players on their side. Twohill said the NHFD is counting on the experience of their veteran players to stop police from making winning a tradition.

“It’s gonna be a good game,” Detective Tom Glynn said.