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Schwartz: Bravest Vs. Finest On Ice Comes To Brooklyn

By Peter Schwartz
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When you think about hockey rivalries in New York, obviously the Islanders and Rangers come to mind. Throw in the Devils and there has been plenty of intense hockey between the locals over the years. But for over four decades, there has been another rivalry that has featured hard-hitting action on the ice and an incredible atmosphere in the stands.

The 44th annual FDNY vs. NYPD hockey game will take place March 18, and for the first time, it will be played at Barclays Center in Brooklyn. The very first clash between the Bravest and Finest took place at the Abe Stark Arena on Coney Island in 1974, and now the game is back in Brooklyn.

"It's a really big deal for us," said Tim Kemp, vice president of programming for Brooklyn Sports & Entertainment. "We think that it's among the most prestigious hockey games in the world for that matter. I think the environment is going to be incredible."

With the exception of last year's 6-5 win by the NYPD and the 2002 contest won by the Finest, both at Madison Square Garden, the game has generally been played at Nassau Coliseum, but the Coliseum is still closed for renovations, opening the door for this year's game to wind up in Brooklyn.

"It's very exciting," said FDNY team captain Tom Reno from Division 8, who also serves as the club's general manager and head coach. "We've never played in Brooklyn before, and we hope to attract new fans."

As it turns out, it was an assist from the NYPD's team captain that helped bring the game to Brooklyn.

NYPD 78th Precinct Deputy and Commanding Officer Frank DiGiacomo played an integral role in presenting the Barclays Center with the opportunity to host the game since his precinct works very closely with the arena.

"We are beyond excited to bring New York City's biggest hockey rivalry to Brooklyn," DiGiacomo said.

The NYPD hockey team began play in 1973, while the FDNY hockey began in 1968, when the 16th Battalion, known as the Harlem Rink Rats, took on the Bronx Bums from the 14th Battalion. The players that make up the Bravest hockey club lend their time and efforts to raise money to support the team as well as the charities they support throughout the year.

FDNY leads the all-time series 23-18 with two ties, but the NYPD has won three in a row following a five-game winning streak by FDNY.

"It's a fiercely competitive rivalry," Kemp said. "But at the end of the day, off the ice, they're all on the same team. It's going to be a great environment for the fans."

The FDNY-NYPD rivalry has been emotional and hard hitting over the years. In fact, there have been times when things have gotten downright nasty, like the bench-clearing brawl during the 2014 game at Nassau Coliseum, won by the NYPD, 8-5. The players on both teams take this game very seriously, and they all feel that you can compare this rivalry to what you see with the Islanders and Rangers.

"The rivalry between the NYPD and the FDNY is comparable to a Game 7 of the Stanley Cup between the Islanders and the Rangers," DiGiacomo said. "The pride associated with winning this rivalry is indescribable and fuels a level of adrenaline which can be felt throughout the area."

"It's right alongside the rivalry," Reno said. "In our mind, we're representing our department, our team and our city. We all get along, but on the ice, we both want to win."

The annual contest between the FDNY and NYPD will be just part of a big hockey day in Brooklyn. Face-off is at 8 p.m., and the game will be the nightcap of a day-night doubleheader on ice at Barclays Center. Earlier in the day, the Islanders will host the Columbus Blue Jackets at 1 p.m., so local hockey fans can spend the whole day in Brooklyn.

With two games and two sets of fans, it will also be a busy day for the arena staff.

"It's a full day of hockey for us," Kemp said. "We'll clear the building, Zamboni the ice, set up backstage and everyone will be ready to go. It's going to be a big day in Brooklyn to say the least."

It was a big day for Brooklyn when the Islanders arrived for the 2015-16 season, and now the Barclays Center is set to host the FDNY-NYPD hockey game for the first time.

It's a contest that always seems to have a little bit of everything, including physical play on the ice and an amazing atmosphere in the stands.

Don't forget to follow Pete on Twitter @pschwartzcbsfan.

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