Buffalo hockey marathon raises $1 million, many blisters
BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) — It was just past 4 a.m. on Thursday when Andrew Tokasz decided it was time to inject some energy into a hockey game that was entering its seventh consecutive day.
Shortly after Team White’s Kenny Corp scored on a backhander from the slot to cut Team Blue’s lead to 1,073-1,058, Tokasz grabbed the nob of his stick as if it were a microphone and began singing along to the chorus of Van Morrison’s “Brown Eyed Girl” playing over the HarborCenter loudspeakers.
Why not belt out a couple of “sha-la-la lah-ti-das?” Anything to break the monotony when the stands are empty except for a janitor mopping the floor, and blisters are about the only things popping on the ice.
“That’s the toughest,” Kenny Haynes said, referring to playing the four-hour overnight shift of a game that began with plenty of buzz on June 22 and isn’t scheduled to end until Monday morning.
“There’s no one here. You get up. It’s the middle of night,” Haynes said. “And when the sun start’s coming up, and you’re like, ‘Oh, that’s cool.'”
“Yeah,” interjected Mike Lesakowski. “But then you’re going to bed.”
They’re not complaining.
This is, after all, what the 40 Buffalo-area rec-league players — many of them in their 40s — signed up for a year ago when Lesakowski broached the idea of “The 11-Day Power Play “ to raise $1 million for cancer research and break the Guinness World Record mark of 250 hours, 3 minutes, 20 seconds set during an outdoor game in Alberta in 2015.
They’ve already surpassed the monetary goal by raising $1.09 million for Buffalo’s Roswell Park Cancer Institute.
As for the on-ice objective, there’s an overriding sense of optimism that the worst just might be over now that they’re past the halfway point.
“I think the hump arrived between yesterday and today,” Lesakowski said.
Sunday was the worst for Justen Ehrig.
“I’m usually pretty tough mentally, but Day 3 was really trying for me,” the 30-year-old said. “I got off the ice and was really depressed. I actually started to tear up at one point. I didn’t know why. I just crashed or something. Once I got past that, I was fine.”
There have been both mental and physical challenges to overcome.
Equipment doesn’t dry fast enough even though most players brought two sets each. Getting enough sleep is an issue with 40 players crammed into four rooms.
“I had a shift where I was four (hours) on, four off, four on at the very beginning, and I don’t think I got more than two or three hours (of sleep),” Steve Roder said. “You’d think you’d be knocked out and you would just lay down and, boom. But it’s so hard to shut it down.”
So much for the all-night poker and video-game tournaments some thought would happen.
“You get off the ice, you eat, go to the bathroom, go to bed, and then you’re up and doing the same thing over again,” Ehrig said.
Two players have been sidelined for various stretches due to illness and fatigue. They included goalie Ryan Martin, who came down with strep throat last weekend and had to be quarantined so not to infect other players before being cleared to return on Wednesday.
Their absences placed a burden on the remaining 38 players to fill the shifts because roster substitutions aren’t allowed once the game begins.
There have also been several high points during the marathon in which the scoresheet has now surpassed 33 pages.
Early Saturday, Lesakowski’s brother showed up with several of his employees and tossed an octopus on the ice, a scene familiar to fans of the Detroit Red Wings. News of the event has spread across the country, with one woman from Seattle calling HarborCenter’s main number seeking to buy a T-shirt.
Much of the credit is being paid to a medical staff that’s on hand 24 hours a day to deal with injuries, tape blistered feet and provide massages.
Players have a dining room, where much of the food has been donated by local restaurants. Pizza, for example, arrives each night at 10 p.m.
What keeps them going is a tight bond developed after spending much of the past year training. They’re also driven by knowing the money they’re raising is going to an important cause.
“We’ll take a few blisters to raise money to cure some of these cancers,” Roder said.
In retrospect, the easiest part has actually been playing hockey. Each period lasts an hour, with players getting 10-minute breaks while the ice is cleaned. The game proceeds at mostly a plodding pace given there is only one substitute per team. Icings are common and so are the occasional scrums of players chatting at one end of the ice while the play is going on at the other end.
“It’s a marathon not a sprint,” as Roder put it with a laugh.
And yet, there are occasional bursts of energy with odd-man breaks and defensemen racing back in a bid to negate a scoring opportunity.
The tight score is a reflection of how competitive the players are. After Team Blue opened a 16-goal lead, Team White rallied to cut it to 1,090-1,082 by 6 a.m.
“Everyone in this is probably competitive and you can’t turn that off,” Haynes said. “When you’re down 15, you don’t want to go down 16 so you start playing a little harder to make sure you’re not going to give them a freebie.”
The only exception they might make is if the game’s tied once the record is broken.
There are no plans to settle it in a shootout.
Breaking into a laugh, Lesakowski said: “One of the guys said that if it’s tied at the very end, ‘I’m going to turn around and score on my own goalie.'”