BROOKLYN, New York, June 27 (By Maria Young for RIA Novosti) – New York City firefighters skated past a team of emergency responders from Moscow Wednesday night to win the third annual “Battles on Ice,” a fiercely competitive hockey game that organizers say is about far more than the final score.
“This is a fun game, an exciting game, but it will also definitely contribute to a positive dialogue between the countries,” said Russian Minister of Civil Defense Vladimir Puchkov, speaking through an interpreter in an interview with RIA Novosti.
“The friendship between first responders in both countries is always outside and beyond political relations, because ultimately our goals are saving lives,” he added shortly before the game began.
After an opening ceremony that included the singing of the Russian and American national anthems, team Moscow scored the first goal less than 30 seconds in, much to the delight of Russian-Americans like Hanna Fedziayeva, who moved from Russia to the United States eight years ago.
“I love America, of course, but Russia is still my homeland, and I don’t get much chance to visit events with Russian participation here, so today I want to support them,” said Fedziayeva, cheering from the stands and helping friends wave a giant Russian flag during much of the game.
The “Battles On Ice” series began in New York three years ago, a decade after the 9/11 attacks, as a way to build a bond between emergency workers in two cities that have felt the devastation of terrorism.
Former professional hockey player Alexei Yashin had just moved to the United States to join the New York Islanders and was in New York City the day two planes hit the twin towers of the World Trade Center.
“I remember the shock, the disbelief that everyone felt here, and of course the sacrifices of the FDNY (Fire Department of New York) and the New York Police, who will never be forgotten, and we are grateful that we are able to honor their sacrifices and the sacrifices of all first responders,” said Yashin, speaking through an interpreter at a press conference before the game.
The Moscow firefighters, traveling to the US, won that first game in 2011. Last year the New York crew traveled to Moscow and brought home the trophy, a massive piece of art designed by famed Russian artist Zurab Tsereteli.
They also brought home new insight they have tried to return to their Russian counterparts, said New York Fire Commissioner Salvatore Cassano.
“When our firefighters went to Russia, and saw some of the things that Russian firefighters do, and when the Russian firefighters come here and see some things we do, at the end of the day we’re both stronger departments for it and provide a better service,” Cassano said.
“This is a bond that is so strong, because most first responders no matter where you live or work, we’re all in this for one reason, that’s to help people, that’s what we do,” he added.
The New York team rallied from behind, and with the score tied at 3-3, there was one near-fight between two opposing players. But no punches were thrown, no noses were bloodied, and after New York scored the final goal deep in the third period for a 4-3 win, the players shook hands and in some cases hugged.
“I understand New York won just so they could go back to Moscow next year for the rematch,” joked Rina Kirshner, vice president of the Russian-American Foundation which organized the event.
Puchkov, the minister of civil defense, was all smiles after the game, despite his team’s loss.
“No matter the score, friendship wins,” he said.