Her voice sounded a little tired, but there’s no doubt her passion and commitment were as strong as ever. “I think the ongoing support of this amazing city and just meeting amazing people that want to be a part of the 11 Day Power Play keep us energized,” said Amy Lesakowski, executive director and co-founder of the event. “We feel very humbled and grateful to meet so many people in our community that want to do something to give back.”
The event – the 11 Day Power Play – started as a simple, but crazy idea to raise money to fight cancer by playing a hockey game 24 hours per day for 11 straight days. While the game has evolved every year, it’s still driven by the same goal. This year, the game will be held July 5-15 at Harborcenter in downtown Buffalo. It’s open to the public and free to attend.
The Evolution of the 11 Day Power Play
The original 11 Day Power Play game in 2017 pitted two teams of 20 men against one another for 11 straight days. It was grueling, nonstop hockey, played around-the-clock by 40 regular guys. It raised more than a $1 million and set a Guinness World Record for the longest continuously played game of ice hockey.
All of the original 40 players are back this year and will be playing one or more shifts. “These guys love it. They’re just so amazing. We’ve had their support since day one–they’re a huge part of the event. A lot of them have their own teams playing. A lot of them play on the same team together. They’re just so dedicated.”
The 2018 11 Day Power Play Community Shift
Following the spectacle, in 2018, the event was opened up to the public. The 11 Day Power Play Community Shift was born. “We wanted to do another marathon hockey game that involved more people, allowing more people to support the cause,” said Lesakowski.
Related: A Four-Hour Shift That Lasts Forever
More than 1,500 men, women and children of all age groups skated at least one of 122 four-hour shifts to raise money. It was wildly popular and raised an incredible $1.28 million.
The 2019 11 Day Power Play Community Shift
This year, the event is bigger than ever. In fact that’s its theme. “We had so many people apply to play and we didn’t want to say no to anyone,” said Lesakowski as her voice became more soft and tender. “These teams were affected by cancer. Reading the applications… it was profound to read their stories as to why they wanted to play in the event. So we wanted to accommodate them.”
Given the incredible demand to play in the event, shifts have been reduced from four hours to three hours. “We checked with our previous captains. I’d say 95 percent of them are coming back, which shows they had a great time last year, and they were all in agreement. They said absolutely–whatever we can do to allow more people to put cancer on ice through our event.”
There are roughly 2,500 players set to skate at least one of 164 shifts. Each player was given a $500 fundraising goal to set and is their responsibility to achieve their goal. This year’s event already eclipsed the $1 million mark several weeks ago and is well on the way to exceeding last year’s total. All monies raised will be distributed to a variety of organizations, including Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center, Camp Good Days and Special Times, as well as the Make-A-Wish Foundation.
Move Over, Gritty
You’ll find a lot of hockey players, volunteers and fans around the event in downtown Buffalo. But this year, there’s also a new guest: Petey. Standing nearly 6-foot-8, the big blue cuddly mascot could be a long lost cousin of Gritty, the Philadelphia Flyers furry orange mascot who surfaced in Sep. 2018.
“He’s big and cuddly… somebody that people want to hug,” said Lesakowski, her smile felt through the early-morning phone call. “With the mission we’re in to fight cancer, we wanted him huggable and lovable. So far, when people see him, that’s the first thing they want to do… hug him. It’s exactly what we wanted.”
Petey isn’t exactly a monster or a buffalo. “We wanted people to be like…who is he?,” chuckled Lesakowski. “He kind of replicates a bar league guy. He’s got a few missing and cracked teeth. He’s got the mullet going. And the big grin.”
Opening Night Celebration
In order to squeeze in all the teams, the games actually start at 6 a.m. on July 5. That’s why, instead of doing an opening night ceremony, it’s an opening night celebration from 5:30 p.m. to 9 p.m. at Harborcenter. A special announcement and video will also be part of the festivities.
“We want players, their families and everyone in the community to come out and bring their kids. We’ve got face painting. We’ve got balloon making. We’ve got 716 providing Buffalo’s best foods… even cotton candy in our brand colors.”
• At 6:00pm Sled hockey will be played with USA Sled hockey players on that team along with some veterans.
• At 7:00pm the original 40 Blue Team versus the 11 Day Power Play 2018 top fundraisers
• At 8:00pm the original 40 White Team versus the 11 Day Power Play 2019 top fundraisers
At the closing shift, on July 15, the top three fundraising teams play a team comprised of the Sabres alumni and the Buffalo Beauts. The entire 11-day (and night) event will be streamed live via a link on their website, 11DayPowerPlay.com. There is a small fee.
The Multiplier Effect of Every Dollar Raised
Every dollar makes a difference. Roswell Park researchers are able to leverage a single dollar raised into a $10 return. It’s enough to keep everyone motivated, knowing they’re making a difference, especially close to home.
For example, this year, five applications (out of 40) from researchers were selected to receive seed grants from the fundraising in Western New York. One of the applications was from Dr. Scott Abrams who sought to study the use of immune-targeted therapy for the treatment of breast cancer. He received a $100,000 grant from the 11 Day Power Play funds.
The event is a monumental undertaking each year. Planning and logistics are paramount for things to run smoothly. When asked if the event monopolized her life…if there’s a time she’s not thinking about the 11 Day Power Play, Lesakowski chuckled and took a moment to gather her thoughts. “It’s a grass roots event. We are a very small group and primarily all volunteers. We don’t have a lot of overhead as an organization. I think that’s what’s exciting for us… what we’ve been able to achieve. We have a ton of volunteers at the event, but all year, it’s a very small group planning it. To see the fundraising numbers… the money we’re able to raise… with just that small group of people running it is… well… that’s a high for us. Wow. Anything’s possible–it’s something we’ve always said from day one.”
She is constantly blown away by the people in Buffalo. “The Buffalo community is an incredible city that wants to give back. They love their city. When people ask us if we’re surprised by the support we’ve received, yes, but we also know how amazing people in Buffalo are. And that never surprises us. We see people doing so many wonderful things for people in need in our community and for them to embrace the 11 Day Power Play event, is something we’re very grateful for and hope that it continues to be supported.”
She continued, “Michael (her husband and co-founder) and I, we hope to be running this event when we’re 80 years old. We want it to be around for a very long time and we want to see families benefit from it and know that we’re always going to fight for a cure for cancer and fight to support them.”
Jeff has been covering the NHL for over a decade for various sites. He’s been with The Hockey Writers as a lead Sabres writer three years, while also writing a satire column called “Off the Crossbar.”