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In Ellenton, a tribute to fallen Tampa officers

MANATEE — Matt Eaton didn’t know Jeff Kocab and Dave Curtis.

But, like many others in the Tampa Bay area, he was heartbroken when two 31-year-old Tampa police officers were gunned down last month during a traffic stop.

Eaton decided he needed to do something to help bring something positive out of a tragic situation.

So, as the operations director at the Ellenton Ice and Sports Complex, Eaton has coordinated a fundraiser scheduled for 2 p.m. Saturday that includes a hockey game between Tampa Bay area firefighters and police officers, with all proceeds going to the families of Kocab and Curtis.

Eaton didn’t limit the rosters to just Tampa. Players from St. Petersburg, Manatee, Sarasota and Pasco counties are slated to participate in the game.

“I wanted people from all over ... and complete awareness of the jobs they all do,” said Eaton, who is also a certified firefighter and emergency medical technician. “It’s sad that it takes these tragic events to raise awareness.”

The event begins with a firefighter/police officer touch football game and also includes a car wash, dunk tank, clowns and a pair of fire engines.

The hockey game will be played in three 15-minute periods, beginning at 3:30 p.m. with the opening ceremonies and a surprise honorary puck drop.

“It’s going to be an emotional few minutes,” said Eaton, who didn’t want to name the person dropping the puck.

Mark Ladwig and Amanda Evora, two of the four Ellenton figure skaters who competed for the Winter Olympics in Vancouver, will perform a routine during the game’s first intermission. Fellow Ellenton Olympian Jeremy Barrett will be in the dunk tank from 2-2:45 p.m., and Evora will hit the tank from 2:45-3:30 p.m.

“They’re awesome,” Eaton said.

As for the game itself, the police will dress 16 skaters and two goalies. The firefighters will counter with 13 skaters and one goalie.

The players hit the ice for warm-ups at 3 p.m,

“We’ve been overwhelmed with the community support, and not just in Tampa,” said Laura McElroy, spokesperson for the Tampa Police Department. “It’s been overwhelming to see the impact these two men had on so many lives, and we are really touched to see Ellenton do something like this.”

Admission to the event is free, and though there will be donation buckets located at various spots, donations are not mandatory.

“I didn’t want to put a fixed admission on it — any amount will help the families,” Eaton said. “I think if people are at the event, they are there to help out the cause.”

And that’s all he wants to do.

“I’m the type of person that if I could help someone out,” Eaton said, “I’d do it in a heartbeat.”