By Dakota Antelman, Contributing Writer
Marlborough – One of the few places large groups of first responders congregate is at the funerals of their fallen colleagues. Mike Matros, a Sudbury firefighter and Marlborough native, has worked to change that over the past year with the “Heroes Cup” he helped found.
Scheduled to run from April 21 and 23 at the New England Sports Center (NESC) in Marlborough, the Heroes Cup will be one of the largest first-responder charity hockey tournaments in the country. It will include EMS, police, firefighters and military members and has already booked all its available 55 slots for teams.
Nine hundred first responders have registered and will take the ice playing with their teams in a mammoth bracket that includes more than 150 games over the course of the weekend. By the end of the tournament, Matros hopes to have raised $200,000 to be donated to charities across the country.
“Our biggest goal is benefiting the charities and bringing guys together in a non-funeral way,” he said. “Unfortunately, by the nature of our jobs, having a get together with total strangers is often for a funeral. That’s part of the job.”
In bringing first responders together, the Heroes Cup follows a format unlike other charity events. Matros has named the Last Call Foundation the host charity of the tournament and plans to give them 25 percent of the money raised.
Last Call was founded in 2014 after the death of Boston Firefighter Michael Kennedy in a fire in the Back Bay and has since supported research into firefighter safety. Their work ranges from cancer prevention to developing safer equipment for firefighters.
Beyond the Last Call Foundation, each of the 55 teams participating in the tournament will be playing for a charity of their choice. Matros and other organizers will distribute 75 percent of the money raised to these team-selected charities. Regardless of their performance in the tournament, every team will earn a donation for their charity.
“That is a very unique format, something that we put together and really haven’t seen quite to that level,” Matros said. “A lot of places have one charity and all of these teams play to benefit that one charity. This is something where we wanted to benefit everybody while still benefiting our host charity.”
In tandem with the fundraising, Matros is planning the tournament as a social event for first responders that enables them to interact outside of the somber setting of a funeral home or a cemetery.
On Friday, that social setting will be a “casino night” where organizers will auction off items donated by local businesses to help boost the pool of charity money.
On Saturday night, Matros said, Heroes Cup will “turn NESC into a concert hall.” During that event at least one act from Nashville, Tenn., will perform on the same night as a battle of the bands between firehouse bands.
Additionally, Matros and organizers plan to end the weekend with a cookout and tailgate competition running in conjunction with the tournament playoffs.
In organizing these aspects of the event, Matros is turning to local businesses. He needs “unique” items to auction at the casino night and is also coordinating the sale of ads in game programs and at rinks during the tournament.
“I’m really spreading the word locally because I want the message to be very clear that this area, particularly Marlborough/central Massachusetts, really knows how to welcome our heroes,” he said. “Whether they’re guys from Boston, from the Marines, everyone knows Marlborough. It is on the map for the first responders because of the tournament and I want the community to really rally to support these heroes.”
This is not the first time Matros has hosted an event with these intentions. Last year, as a means of meeting his fundraising requirement to run in the Boston Marathon on behalf of the Last Call Foundation, he organized a Firefighter Faceoff game between his own Sudbury Police Department and the Framingham Police Department.
He raised over $10,000 through that single game and impressed attendees who thought, based on his heavy advertising, that the game was part of a tournament.
Spurred by that feedback, Matros eventually decided to divert all his fundraising attention from the marathon into his new project, expanding that single-game Firefighter Faceoff into the three-day tournament.
Matros wants to continue his efforts beyond this year but does not know how and if the tournament will expand or change from its current format as a social and charitable event for firefighters nationwide.
“I don’t know where it’s going to go because if you asked me a year ago where I saw the Firefighter Faceoff going, it wouldn’t have been here,” he said. “I’ll keep growing it as people want to keep being involved.”
The tournament will be open to spectators. For more information, visit www.heroscuphockey.com.