By Dakota Antelman, Contributing Writer
Marlborough – Nearly 1,000 first responders from the U.S. and Canada raised money for charity during the recent Heroes Cup hockey tournament held at the New England Sports Center (NESC) in Marlborough from April 21-23.
The brainchild of Sudbury firefighter Mike Matros, the tournament and its organizers partnered with the Last Call Foundation to donate 25 percent of its fundraising to the charity. In addition to the Last Call Foundation, teams then selected individual charities to represent. Organizers donated sections of the remaining money to those charities at the end of the tournament.
“It’s a good way to give back to the community,” said Framingham firefighter Mike Campion after finishing a game with his team. “It’s just a great tournament to get together with the guys and play some hockey for a great cause.”
Matros said the tournament raised $125,000 before the first game on April 21. As of the second day of the tournament, he said the event was on track to meet its $200,000 fundraising goal with additional donations throughout the weekend.
“They’re excited to be a part of the event and have the event be about them,” Matros said of the charities benefiting from the tournament. “I think that’s going to help grow the event and make it like the Boston Marathon where charities are the ultimate benefiters from an event like this.”
The Heroes Cup kicked off early on the afternoon of April 21 and continued with preliminary games through the early hours of April 23. Qualifying teams then moved into a series of playoff brackets to decide champions of six different divisions.
Off the ice, organizers like Matros planned two nights of entertainment at the nearby Best Western Hotel also in Marlborough. First responders headed to the hotel after their games on April 21 for a casino night to grow the pool of cash to be donated. They returned the next day for a battle of the bands between first responder bands, and a concert by the Nashville band Turquoise Willy.
As the playoffs and championship games took place on the final day of the tournament, retired New York firefighter and TV personality Ray Cooney hosted a cook-off between first responders at the NESC.
“We’re just here to have fun,” said Chelmsford firefighter Patrick Daley. “The organization has been great; Mike has done such a good job. There have been no hiccups at least on our end. We know what to do and where to go. It’s very well organized.”
Matros hopes to continue to build on the success of this first Heroes Cup with an expansion of the tournament next year. He plans to add space for 32 additional teams with an array of skills competitions and skating events surrounding the games themselves.
The expansion, Matros said, will be made possible by the opening of two new rinks at the NESC. Those rinks, which are already under construction, will give the facility eight full-size rinks on which they can host games.
As the Heroes Cup expands, Matros hopes he will again be able to garner the widespread support from local communities that he said made this year’s event successful.
“Everybody in the community [has been coming out],” Matros said. “All the way from the mayor down to different community organizations and the kids themselves, people are coming in helping and volunteering.”