The three sons of Michael J. Califano took center ice Sunday at Nassau Coliseum and dropped the puck to start an unusual game in honor of their late father.
The game, between the Nassau Police Benevolent Association and the Nassau deputy sheriffs, was held to raise funds for the family of the Nassau County highway patrolman killed last month while conducting a routine traffic stop on the Long Island Expressway.
Califano, 44, of Wantagh, was killed Feb. 5 by a flatbed truck when its driver fell asleep at the wheel and veered into his patrol car. He left behind his wife, Jackie, and his sons, Michael, 13, Chris, 11, and Andrew, 6.
"It's a way to make sure that Mike's dream that his kids go to college are achieved," said Nassau PBA president James Carver, adding that the funds will also be used to help Califano's wife, Jackie, pay for child care.
"The response has been phenomenal," said Cliff Gault, a senior sales executive for the Islanders, who said close to 2,000 tickets were sold in 10 days. The two teams play in leagues, but never at the Coliseum.
Ann Rina, spokeswoman for the Islanders, said the boys received the personalized jerseys they wore Sunday when the team hosted them last month for a game that also included a locker room tour and a meet-and-greet with players.
Califano's wife and children declined to comment.
But Califano's brother Charlie, 42, of Bayport, said he was overwhelmed by the turnout.
"It just goes to show what a great man he was," he said. "I'm very proud."
His wife, Christina Califano, 41, said her nephews are doing fine, but they have their moments. "They go from crying to laughing."
The PBA also donated about 2,000 T-shirts with the words "In Memory of Michael J. Califano," his badge number 2852 and the date he was killed.