By William Kaempffer
NEW HAVEN — As police officers and firefighters lace up skates for their annual grudge match hockey game Saturday, some grudges will go back longer than others.
In high school, firefighter John Twohill could barely set foot off campus because he played for rival Notre Dame of West Haven.
“He was the most hated man in West Haven,” said Detective Herbie Johnson, a Blue Devils player in the late 1980s and one-time archenemy. “Me and him were bitter rivals. Whenever I would see him, we would get into it.”
“I was a marked man,” acknowledged Twohill.
Improbably, a decade later, they would wear the same hockey sweater for a police/fire tournament in Long Island.
“I never thought, after all these years, that I’d be playing against some of the same guys I played against in high school,” said Johnson, a detective, father and 10-year member of the force.
The Police and Fire departments’ hockey teams will face off Saturday at Yale’s Ingalls Rink and decades-old rivalries will take the ice with them along with a collection of state championships from high school glory days at some the state’s pre-eminent hockey powerhouses.
Johnson won a state championship with West Haven in 1990. Police Officer Dan Sacco won one in West Haven in 1994. Officer Dennis Mastriano took a state title in 1991 playing for Fairfield Prep. Fire Lt. Rob Celentano was all-state for Hamden.
Twohill starred at Notre Dame and police Officer Mike Torre and Firefighter Jim Fitzgerald skated for North Haven High.
Now, their kids are playing against each other. Missing for the second year is Rob Fumiatti, the city police officer and former West Haven Blue Devil who was shot in a drug raid. After going through extensive therapy and returning to work, he died unexpectedly last year.
The hockey game is the 12th annual between the two squads, and represents a growing trend among police and fire departments in the region. The police departments in West Haven and Hamden both have created teams in the last few years.The NHPD/NHFD hockey game has evolved into a family event over the last decade, organizers said. Adults are asked to make a $20 donation; kids get in free and there is an open skate after the game. Proceeds benefit sick or injured police officers and firefighters or their families.
TThe opening ceremony will feature the New Haven police and fire honor guards and the New Haven Firefighters Emerald Society Pipes and Drum Band.his year, the beneficiaries are police officers Rose Reid and Ted Forbes, a former captain of the West Haven hockey team; Kaycie Begley, the daughter of Milford fire Capt. Bernie Begley, and Laura Kennel, daughter of Guilford Firefighter Keith Kennel.
Face-off is at 1:30 p.m., but the needling already has begun.
Johnson was in the middle of taking a statement in the detective bureau earlier this month when his phone started ringing off the hook, but it wasn’t another shooting coming in.
When he called back, it was Mastriano. Prep had won the state championship a few days earlier.
“He said, ‘I just want to let you know I have a fresh Fairfield Prep state championship jersey in my hands,’” Johnson said. “And he says he doesn’t rub it in.”