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Once Honored by New York Islanders, Ray Pfeifer Dies a Hero

Ray Pfeifer, who tirelessly advocated for his fellow first responders, died on Sunday after a lengthy battle with cancer.

The Islanders were the exception.

Ray Pfeifer, the beloved firefighter who lost his battle with terminal cancer on Sunday, always managed to evade recognition for his efforts in lobbying Congress for health benefits for his fellow first responders.

Well … not quite. When the New York Islanders wanted to honor him for being a role model for millions of other people, Pfeifer couldn’t resist. And so on April 2, 2016, in front of a packed house at Brooklyn’s Barclays Center, Pfeifer dropped the puck before the Islanders’ game against the Penguins.

The applause was deafening.

“There’s nobody who’s going to be more happy than me,” Pfeifer had said before dropping the puck. “To be in that venue, just to be in front of a hometown crowd and be with my team . . . it’s a dream come true. Not everybody gets to do it. I’m a longtime fan, and it’s an honor just to go out there and hang out with these guys.”

Pfeifer was — and still is — the poster boy for the movement, not just the one that fights for first responders’ benefits, but the one that is actually comprised of first responders.

In what could only be described as an unending love for other people, he “spent nine days at the pile and slept down there.” Himself a victim of a disease attributed to his work at the fatal scene, he never stopped fighting — not just for himself — for the others in the same boat as him.

He won’t be forgotten.

“Ray Pfeifer was a true fighter who bravely battled fires as a New York City firefighter and fought tirelessly for all first responders who — like him — suffered from World Trade Center-related illness,” said Daniel A. Nigro, the fire commissioner, in a statement. “The entire FDNY family mourns his loss.”

Ahead of Memorial Day, the entire Islanders family mourns a fighter, a role model, an advocate — and most importantly, a hero.

Justin Weiss is a staff editor at Elite Sports New York, where he covers the New York Islanders and Brooklyn Cyclones. In 2016, he received a Quill Award for Freelance Journalism. He has written for the Long Island Herald, FanSided and YardBarker.