As a career Frederick County firefighter, Matthew Smith is used to making saves, so it came as no surprise when he pulled off a few clutch catches Sunday in his other role as a goalkeeper in the local firefighter union’s second annual 9/11 Memorial Game.
Cheers and shouts of “Go get ‘em, Matt!” echoed across the ice at the Skate Frederick arena from Smith’s teammates on the Frederick Fire’s bench as the firefighter kept another shot from their opponents, another team made up of first responders called the Annapolis Chiefs, from the back of the net.
While last year’s memorial game raised more than $1,700 for a charity in New York called Tuesday’s Children — a nonprofit that helps individuals whose lives have been impacted by terrorism or traumatic loss such as the Sept. 11 attacks — this year the fundraiser was a little closer to home, Smith said when reached before the game.
“This year we decided to see if we can support our own guys because we thought that would be a good thing to focus on, so the benefits from this year’s game will go toward the [International Association of Fire Fighters Local 3666’s] benevolent fund,” Smith said. “We have a couple of different pots that we put money into from union dues and fees and, basically, the way I understand it, it goes toward things like burial benefits and other forms of assistance to firefighters and any firefighter family that needs extra financial assistance.”
Despite the more local approach, the team didn’t lose focus of the importance of memorializing the lives of their fellow firefighters and emergency responders who rushed to the scenes of the terrorist attacks in 2001. Tony Tricarico, a retired New York Fire Department captain who responded to the World Trade Center after the attacks in New York, made the trip down to Maryland as a special guest to do a ceremonial puck drop and address the crowd before the game.
Having heard about the terrorist attacks while visiting another fire station, Tricarico raced back to his station and met up with his colleagues on Brooklyn Squad 252 to head downtown. Squad 252 lost six crew members during the response to the trade center towers and Tricarico has dedicated himself to honoring their memories and keeping the sacrifices they and others made that day in focus.
“I’m always honored to be asked to do things like this, I’ve been all over the world to do things like this, so it’s an honor and to me, it’s also important that it’s still being remembered,” Tricarico said of the invitation to Maryland. “Because sometimes, it feels like people aren’t remembering or they’re forgetting what [9/11] is all about. It’s not a holiday, or Patriots’ Day. It’s about something that happened, something that occurred in America and a lot of people died that day ... all of our worlds changed that day.”
Tricarico was joined by his son’s family, who live in the Chesapeake Bay area, and, after the puck drop, the Frederick Fire presented the former captain with a plaque to show their gratitude for his service and for taking time to help with the charity game.
Back in the stands, Nicole Smiroldo, who attended the game with her 5-year-old son, Sam, said she was happy to make the drive from nearby Carroll County when she learned of the game on Facebook.
“It’s great because my son here loves hockey and we’re also huge supporters of the fire department,” Smiroldo said, explaining how she grew up in the fire department and has many family members who are in the fire service. “It’s also great to know that the money is going to a good cause.”
As a bonus, Sam got to try ice skating for the first time when the team hosted a “skate with the team” event prior to the game.
“He also got a puck and a lot of the players signed it for him, so this has been absolutely great,” Smiroldo said.
Jack Stolberg, 9, was also in the stands eagerly anticipating the beginning of the match, saying he was most looking forward to watching the players smacking the puck around and taking shots. Stolberg also got a chance to meet Tricarico before the game and was delighted to receive a FDNY patch from the retired captain as a souvenir.
“He was really polite and nice,” Jack said.
A short time later, Jack’s father, Frederick County Division of Fire and Rescue Services Capt. Lenne Stolberg, walked out on the ice to introduce Tricarico to the crowd and thank the attendees for showing up to support local firefighters.
“All the money that you payed to get in here, for the food and different things, goes to support Frederick County’s benevolent fund and to support those families who have lost their loved ones here within our fire department, so we definitely appreciate all that you’re doing for us and all that you will continue to do,” Lenne told the crowd.