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Pittsburgh firemen, police to hit Consol ice for charity

Andrew Russell | Tribune-Review
Matt Onysko, a firefighter suffering from Lou Gherig's disease, gets a kiss from his daughter, Kendall, 3 as his wife, Jessica, 25, and youngest daughter, McKenna, 8 months, sit nearby at their home in Brighton Heights on Thursday, Oct. 11, 2012. Pittsburgh police and firefighters are facing off in a charity hockey game on Friday to raise money for Onysko and his family.

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By Margaret Harding
Friday, Oct. 12, 2012, 12:01 a.m.

Pittsburgh firefighters made a promise to the city police officers they'll face on the ice in a charity hockey game Friday at Consol Energy Center.

“We might lose the game, but we'll win the fights,” joked Walter Haig, team captain of the Pittsburgh Firefighters Memorial Hockey Team and master firefighter at 37 Engine in the North Side's Manchester neighborhood. “It's a competitive rivalry.”

The police team, called the Pittsburgh Icemen, isn't worried about the match-up, having won previous games against the firefighters.

“They're paid to rescue people and help people, but we're paid to take care of the bad guys,” said Detective Brian Radocaj, team captain. “We'll look at them as the bad guys. If they get chippy, we'll put them in their place.”

Parking and admission for the 6:30 p.m. game is free. Firefighters will collect donations to help a firefighter suffering from Lou Gehrig's disease. Doctors diagnosed Matt Onyshko, 31, of Brighton Heights with the disease about six years ago, and he recently lost the ability to climb stairs.

He said any money raised would go toward renovating his house to install a first-floor bathroom.

“Ever since I let everyone at work know, they made sure I've never needed anything,” said Onyshko, a married father of two. “These guys have really done so much for me already.”

With the ice installed at Consol, the Penguins wanted to host a charity game complete with Pensvision, announcers and other staples of an NHL game, said Ross Miller, senior director of marketing.

“It'll have a few more bells and whistles,” he said.

Detective Ed Synkowski, goalie for the police team, said he thinks the game will be “fairly intense.”

“For a small second, you get to pretend you're somebody important and see what it would be like to get paid to play hockey,” Synkowski said. “Then you realize when you do bad, a lot of people see you.”

The last game between the teams ended with the police up 7-5 after the firefighters pulled their goalie in an attempt to tie it up, Haig said.

“It was a heart-wrenching loss, but we're coming back,” said Firefighter Jared Pauli. “I'm really excited to have hockey back in Pittsburgh for a night.”

84 Lumber will match donations up to $5,000 and offered to supply lumber for the work on Onyshko's home, Miller said.

“Even though there's a lot of trash talk, it's still a brother in the service,” Radocaj said. “You have to help them out.”

Both hockey teams generally play charity games.

“It's fun to do charity events, especially when it's one of your own,” Firefighter Bob Zotter said. “Hopefully, it will be a nice, clean game in front of our kids.”

Margaret Harding is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. She can be reached at 412-380-8519 or

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