After this year’s Battle of the Badges game, the Toledo Police and Fire department hockey teams will probably grab beers at nearby Black Cloister Brewery and laugh about what happened on the ice.
The Toledo Fire Department's Joe Bella reaches out attempting to disrupt the Police Department's Derek Cranford's break away during the annual Battle of the Badges hockey game between Toledo's Police and Fire Departments at the Huntington Center on Dec. 3, 2016.
The Toledo Walleye host the annual event — now in its seventh installment — for a good cause: A portion of ticket sales will go toward the Toledo Firefighters Local 92 charity or TPD’s Detective Jason Picking, who is recovering from being shot in the face Nov. 16. There’s also going to be a silent auction, and the brewery is even donating a portion of its sales on two types of beer.
It’s certainly a game for the greater good, but when the players are actually playing, there’s a real rivalry that can get pretty chippy.
“It’s all about charity, but that game down there, it gets pretty heated,” firefighter Joe Linnenkugel said. “As soon as those locker-room doors open, our camaraderie is right back, but when we’re on the ice, the competition picks up.”
Police officer Stephen Bates called Battle of the Badges their Super Bowl, while firefighter Kyle Getzinger compared it to the Stanley Cup. Many players work with each other on response calls, which provides ample opportunity for lighthearted trash talk.
When one department wins, the trophy goes to that respective chief’s office until the next game.
“When you’re out there, the competitive juices flow,” Officer Bates said. “Things can get a little touchy, but we’re all still friends.”
Mr. Getzinger said players got into “on-ice shenanigans” toward the end of one game. The departments initially worried the Walleye organization would frown upon the scuffle, but instead, it brought more intrigue — and doubled the crowd size — for future matchups.
“When that happened, the publicity of that game went from, ‘Oh, the police and firefighters are playing a hockey game’ to, ‘Did you hear about the police and fire hockey game?’” Mr. Getzinger said.
The first Battle of the Badges game celebrated former Police Chief Mike Navarre’s retirement and was relatively small. Since then, it has blossomed into a year-long affair for both departments: They’ve combined to play around 30 charity games in 2017 and have traveled anywhere from Canada to Nashville.
Many players once participated in travel, collegiate, or even semi-pro hockey, and yet team organizers have turned interested people away because the rosters already have too many players.
“It’s grown so much further than I think we ever anticipated it growing,” Lieutenant Linnenkugel said. “If we skated everybody who wanted to skate at [Battle of the Badges], we’d have 16 lines of people down there.”
Historically, the games have all been within two goals, but the police team won each of the first five games. The firefighters took their first win last year, 3-1.
“Last year was a tough year,” Officer Bates said. “I see Chief George Kral from time to time, and he basically told me that the trophy needs to return to his desk where it was two years ago.”
Fans get into the game, too: Lieutenant Linnenkugel said fellow firefighters ask him all year asking if they’ll “beat the cops.” Mr. Getzinger said he’s seen people he doesn’t know wearing Toledo police or fire hockey merchandise around town, especially at Walleye games.
“It’s basically the closest to pro hockey that we’re ever going to play,” Lieutenant Linnenkugel said. “It’s been an eye opener to see the support we actually get.”
Contact Jimmy Miller at firstname.lastname@example.org, 419-724-6050, or on Twitter @miller_jimmy.
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