The 11-Day Power Play: A Real Miracle on Ice

Diehard hockey fans say they eat, breathe and sleep hockey. While their obsession emphasizes their passion for the game, it’s really just an exaggeration. For the 40 men who are participating in the 11-Day Power Play, though, it’s an absolute reality. They’ll be eating, breathing and sleeping hockey for over 250 continuous hours to raise money for Roswell Park Cancer Institute.

charity hockey tournamentThe single, uninterrupted hockey game will be held at the HarborCenter in downtown Buffalo, getting underway with a puck drop at 9 p.m, June 22 and running until roughly 7 a.m, July 3, 2017. The fundraising mission is simple: raise $1 million for cancer research.

Hockey & Hope

It’s only fitting that my phone interview with Mike Lesakowski, the creator of the 11-Day Power Play, took place while he was driving in his car after leaving an 11-Day Power Play committee meeting to pick up his son and take him to a hockey tournament that he’s coaching in over the weekend.

“Hockey’s part of who I am,” he said. “I’ve been playing for over forty years.”

The idea for a hockey-related fundraiser came from Mike and his wife, Amy Lesakowski, a couple living in a suburb of Buffalo. Having witnessed the toll cancer takes firsthand, they wanted to raise money to help fight it.

Amy, a 35-year-old mother of three, was fighting and beating an aggressive form of breast cancer. She underwent major surgery and spent months in chemotherapy before finally entering remission. Having hope helped her through treatment — and she wanted to pass it on.

In 2014, she made a career change, returning to Roswell Park to help new patients and walk them through their first leg of their battle with cancer. The fundraising idea took a back seat while Mike spent time with his mother, Evelyn, who was battling lung and brain cancer.

Longest hockey game ever played
The Lesakowski Family

While Amy won her battle with cancer, Mike’s mom did not. She passed away this past May at the age of 62.

During her final months, Mike knew he needed to do something to honor his mother. His mom’s death was actually the catalyst that brought the idea to life. Mike has always had passion for hockey and fondly remembers times he spent as a little kid traveling around the country with his folks.

“I think she would be proud of this event. She knows what a hockey fan I am and she knows what it means to me,” he said. “While hockey is the forum we chose to make this happen, it’s really about trying to continue the amazing work that the people at Roswell are doing in terms of cancer research.”

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An Introduction to Roswell Park Cancer Institute

Roswell Park Cancer Institute, located in Buffalo, is the nation’s first cancer center and a world leader in groundbreaking research in the fight against cancer.

“About five or six months ago, we [all the players] had a tour of Roswell. We toured the research facilities and talked with some of the doctors and some of the researchers that were doing the work that we’re going to be giving our money to. It was a great eye opener. There was a point there, when we gathered afterwards and everybody got up, player by player, and talked about why they’re doing what we’re doing. It was pretty emotional.”

Charity hockey game - Roswell
Several players visiting and touring Roswell Park

Buffalo: The City of Good Neighbors

Buffalo is brimming with fans who have a passionate love of hockey. And Buffalonians always step up for their neighbors.

[miptheme_quote author=”Mike Lesakowski” style=”text-center”]Every time we reached out to the community asking for support, they haven’t hesitated for a second. That’s Buffalo, right there. What do you need? Done.[/miptheme_quote]

Chef’s, a popular downtown Italian restaurant favored by fans and Sabres players, answered Mike before he even finished asking.

“Yeah, we’ll feed ya the whole time. No problem. They literally said they’d feed us… 40 guys, 3 meals a day for 11 days, every meal.”

longest hockey game
A recent sponsorship appreciation party recognizing high level sponsors

As it is, restaurants around town are all pitching in to feed them, serving up between one and eight meals each. An army of volunteers, referees and staff will also be fed by a roster of local restaurants that wanted to be part of the event.

The Longest Hockey Game and a Million Dollar Goal

“Truly this is about finding a cure for cancer,” said Amy Lesakowski. “Our goal is to raise $1 million for cancer research for Roswell Park, right here in our own backyard and we truly believe that Buffalo will step up and help us support the 40 men that will be playing.

The fundraising has been nonstop. It has included countless raffles and auctions. Businesses have stepped up in a huge way to help sponsor players, contribute supplies and offer manpower. Additionally, each player must raise $10,000.

There’s even a local craft brewery that has jumped at the chance to participate. Thin Man Brewery created an “11-Day Power Play Pilsner” in support of the event. A dollar from every beer purchased benefits cancer research. I’ll drink to that. We all should drink to that!

Click here to make a donation to the 11 Day Power Play and help make a difference.

11-day power play
The guys at a typical Saturday morning practice.

A Hockey Game and a World Record

The Players aren’t just trying to raise money for cancer research; they’re also trying to set a Guinness world record.

[miptheme_quote author=”Mike Lesakowski” style=”text-center”]The record makes it interesting and gives it some life. But the passion behind it is all the guys that are doing what they’re doing for themselves and for their loved ones who have passed away or are fighting cancer. We love the hockey aspect of it, but it’s really just a vehicle to get to the goal.[/miptheme_quote]

The world’s longest hockey game, according to the Guinness Book of World Records, occurred in February 2015. Playing on an outdoor rink, 40 players skated for more than ten straight days (250 hours, 3 minutes and 20 seconds to be exact), to raise money for the Alberta Cancer Foundation.

Mike Peca
Dave Jickster (L), Mike Lesakowski (C) and Mike Peca (R)

As it turns out, Mike Peca, a former Sabre and longtime friend of Mike Lesakowski, knew the guy who created that event, Brent Saik, a team doctor with the Edmonton Oilers. Peca gave Lesakowski Saik’s number.

“I called him out of the blue. I thought it was his business number and figured I’d leave a message and never end up talking to him,” said Lesakowski.

Saik answered the call and after a brief introduction, Mike continued, “I hope you don’t mind but I just wanted to let you know that I’m organizing the world’s longest hockey game and we’re going to try to break your record here in Buffalo. He paused for a second and goes, ‘Awesome. What do you need? I want to help.’ Those were the first words out of his mouth!”

“I was thinking he might be a little defensive about it and it was the opposite. We had a quick conversation, then scheduled a block of time to chat.”

Mike has also been in touch with a group in Calgary that runs a hockey marathon to raise money for a Children’s Hospital. They touch base every couple of weeks, getting tips and pointers.

“I probably talked to Alex, every couple of weeks to touch base. I’ve never met the guy but I feel like he’s a good friend of mine.”

Filling the Rosters

Finding 40 crazy souls who will put their lives on hold to play hockey for eleven days was surprisingly easy — upwards of a hundred people applied. They’re mostly local, though some guys applied from Western Canada and as far south as North Carolina.

The applicants range from ages 26-61. Their reasons for wanting to lace up their skates are all deeply personal; they all share the common thread of wanting to play because cancer has touched their lives. Some of the players are survivors themselves.

“We interviewed every applicant to get to know them and find the reason why they want to do be a part of the event,” Mike said. “We wanted people who had a reason — we’re raising a million dollars for cancer research and that should be the passion that drives the person, not the event itself. It’s gonna get mentally challenging in the middle of it and you need guys with a little bit of a fire in their belly of why they need to do this, not only for the hockey aspect but for the greater cause.”

Click here to make a donation to the 11-Day Power Play and help make a difference.

Band of Brothers

The group that was selected is essentially comprised of everyday guys determined to do something extraordinary. They are survivors, Roswell employees, teachers, business professionals and scientists.

“It’s an amazing group of guys I couldn’t be more proud of,” Mike added, with a smile that could be felt over the phone.

Some of the 11 Day Power Play participants.

They all agree this is about something much bigger than hockey.

“These guys have lost brothers, mothers, fathers, (people) very close to them. We had a player who had to pull out last week because his dad got a poor diagnosis with cancer. He called, very emotionally to say he can’t play… he had to be with his family. Frankly it fuels our fire. We replaced him with another guy who lost one of his parents that passed due to cancer a couple of years ago. We’re dealing with very real stuff here.”

Click here for the full list of participating players.

Commitment

It’s a huge commitment, both physically and mentally. Like running a marathon, it takes an incredible amount of training for an event like this. For almost a year, Mike and many of the other players have been on the ice and at the gym.

“We have our 6:45 Saturday morning skate til 8, then have an off-ice workout.” Mike added.

Players are working hard on and off the ice to prepare for the marathon game.

[miptheme_quote author=”Mike Lesakowski” style=”text-center”]I saw my wife go through cancer treatment, I saw my mom go through cancer treatment. It’s hellish. Playing hockey for eleven days is a walk in the park compared to what people have to go through every day at Roswell.[/miptheme_quote]

As many of them train together, their bond grows tighter. As stories are shared, they become like brothers to one another.

Click here to make a donation to the 11 Day Power Play and help make a difference.

Playing by the Rules

The game must follow real game rules, with a scorekeeper, two referees on the ice, etc. Although it must be played nonstop, the players can rotate in and out as long as each team has five players and a goalie on the ice at all times. Every four hours, a group will rotate on the ice, giving those coming off eight hours of rest. A Zamboni will clear the ice every hour.

“You just have to break it down one shift at a time,” explained former Sabres captain and participant Mike Peca. “It’s not eleven days; it’s one shift at a time.”

Peca, is honoring his wife who was diagnosed with melanoma in 2012. He is representing everyone that has had their battles with or have lost family members to cancer.

HarborCenter charity hockey game
HarborCenter (Fortunate4now/wikimedia)

Players will basically live inside HarborCenter for eleven days; eating, showering and even sleeping — a local mattress company has donated 40 beds that will be set up inside a converted locker room. If a player leaves the rink at HarborCenter he can’t return to the game, regardless of the reason.

Everyday Heroes

To date, the 11-Day Power Play has already raised nearly $800,000. Aside from the forty men willingly giving up their families, their vacation time and a little bit of sanity all in an effort to raise money in the fight against cancer, there’s an army of volunteers and sponsors who are pitching in. It’s a monumental undertaking.

“If it were easy, everybody would do it,” said Mike Lesakowski. “We are determined to make this goal.”

hockey fights cancer
Some of the 11 Day Power Play participants

“Unfortunately, we’re doing this really great event but it’s for crappy reasons. We’re sick of what we see and we’re all affected by it. That’s the fire behind of all us that keeps us going.”

When the final horn sounds to end the game, Mike thinks the exhaustion will take a back seat and disappear temporarily. “All the players will be there. Our closest friends and family will be there. It’s gonna be awesome. A celebration. It’s gonna be us — 40 regular guys who are going to raise well over a million dollar — on sheer will alone. I think it’s all going to be very emotional. Probably a lot of tears. And then we’re going to drink some champagne and toast each other.”

Putting Cancer on Ice

If you’re within driving distance to Western New York, make it a point to be a part of the 11-Day Power Play. It’s one continuous hockey game for 11 days, but there are about a dozen other events within it. In addition to 50-50 raffles and rocking out with bands playing in the stands, you can try your hand at bubble hockey against Sabres alumni. A full schedule of events will be updated regularly online. Tickets will be sold, but all proceeds will go toward cancer research.

Mike, Amy and their incredible staff of volunteers need your help to reach their goal.

“Just come down and support the guys (players). When people are in the stands—I don’t care if it’s two people—and you’re on the ice, you feel it. You want to keep going hard. Just sit in the stands and cheer on the guys for a little bit. All that energy really helps.”

Click here to make a donation to the 11-Day Power Play and help make a difference.