LEWISTON — The crack of sticks on ice echoed early Monday morning through the Androscoggin Bank Colisee where local police officers fired shots at a hockey net.

By the time they climbed off the ice before 10 a.m., the scoreboard overhead glowed red: 8-7. Cheers filled the bench of blue, white and gold jerseys. The Lewiston Police Department had bested Maine Fire again.

Despite shoves, disparaging calls and responses between opposing players as they headed to their respective locker rooms, the game was for charity — two causes.

Brenda Espinoza, who organized the inaugural match of the International Fire and Police Winter Games, said money raised from the three-day tournament would go to the Shriners Hospital Children’s Burn Center in Boston and the Maine Special Olympics.

After a five-year effort enlisted 600 athletes from many countries for a February 2002 event in Interlaken, Switzerland, the games were canceled by the events of 9/11, she said.

“So the dream was there and came very close to happening,” Espinoza said.

The events on Sept. 11, 2001, erased that dream in a series of fiery flashes when 13 firefighters who had committed to her winter games perished in the collapse of the World Trade Center’s twin towers.

“Many people didn’t think I’d ever do it again,” she said.

It’s taken Espinoza 10 years to regroup and re-envision the event, this time back in her native state. Having left Maine 30 years ago, she moved back to be with family. She settled near Newry’s Sunday River Ski Resort.

“I thought, I should be doing games again,” she said. “Here I am in the mountains. All of this is around me and I don’t have it out of my system yet to pull this off and be successful.”

She signed up six hockey teams to compete in the tournament, including five from Maine and one from Boston. She had hoped to add ski and snowboarding events as well as curling, but got a late start. She hopes to arrange for nine winter sporting events in all at next year’s International Fire and Police Winter Games, she said.

This year, she expects to raise money through the sale of merchandise and tickets to the hockey tournament. She also managed to line up sponsorship from four corporations to help cover some of event’s costs. What’s left after expenses will be presented to the two charities. She is hoping to raise at least $1,000 for each one.

Jim Theiss, a detective at Lewiston Police Department who co-captains the team and plays goalie, said his team was eager to get involved in the cause.

When Espinoza told them the Maine Special Olympics would benefit from the event, the team was on board.

“That’s when we said: ‘Well, we’ll jump onto that.'”

Besides participating in the Maine Special Olympics torch run from Longley Bridge in Auburn to the Lisbon town line, the team also has played in hockey tournaments to benefit the state charity. In 2009, they helped raise more than $2,250 for the nonprofit.

Every member of the LPD team is or has been a police officer except for one player, who is a member of Maine Emergency Medical Services, Theiss said. That discrepancy fueled the already deep-rooted rivalry between the two competitive teams, he said.

But, he added: “Nothing comes off the ice.” The two departments work well together on the job, he said.

“I would stand next to those guys any day of the week,” he said.

Schedule of events for International Fire and Police Winter Games

Androscoggin Bank Colisee, Lewiston

2011 Hockey Tournaments

Tuesday, Jan. 18

8 a.m., Lewiston Police v. Boston Fire

9:40 a.m., Maine Air National Guard v. Sanford Police

11:10 a.m. Third Watch v. Maine Fire

Wednesday, Jan. 19

9 a.m. consolation game

10:40 a.m. Bronze medal game

6 p.m. final, gold and silver medal game and closing ceremonies.

Call 207-357-5687 for tickets, $7 per person in advance, $8 at the box office, children 10 and younger are free.


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