11 Day Power Play Is Trading a Puck for a Ball

Wednesday, Aug. 19 at 7 pm, the puck, er, rather the ball will be dropped to start the 2020 edition of the 11 Day Power Play Community Shift, dubbed the Big Save. Instead of ice hockey, this year’s event originally slated to run from July 8-19, has evolved into an outside street hockey game held at Buffalo RiverWorks in downtown Buffalo. It will go through Aug. 30.

The Origins of the 11 Day Power Play

The 11 Day Power Play, created by Amy and Mike Lesakowski, is an 11-day-long hockey game to raise money for cancer research. That’s right, one continuous hockey game that’s played for 24 continuous hours, for 11 straight days. It started as a simple, but crazy idea and has grown into a much anticipated event on the Western New York calendar.

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This year, given the coronavirus, having the annual fundraising event on ice was simply impossible. “We’re following New York state social distancing guidelines and trying to be as safe as possible for our players and volunteers,” said Amy Lesakowski, executive director and co-founder of the event. “The guidelines do not require players to wear masks while they’re playing. But if you’re sitting on the bench (not playing), you must wear a mask.”

Related: The 11 Day Power Play: Cancer Doesn’t Stop During a Quarantine, Neither Will We

In addition, staff will be taking temperatures of every player at check-in and asking them important COVID tracing questions.

2020: A Reimagined Community Shift

With laws and logistics making the event impossible to play, the 11 Day Power Play is taking it to the street. The street hockey game will be played on an outdoor rink that’s shaded, so the sun won’t be blazing down on the players. And instead of the usual three hour shifts, they’ll be cut in half.

“We knew that playing street hockey would be quite difficult for three hours, so we reduced the shifts to 90 minutes,” said Lesakowski. “Each pair of teams will come in for a two-hour block of time. They’ll register and then play their shift. Then once they vacate the rink, the common areas will be disinfected before the next pair of teams take over.”

Mike Lesakowski at the 11-Day Power Play
The 11 Day Power Play broke the record for the World’s Longest Hockey Game and raised over $1 million at Harborcenter in Buffalo, NY. July 3, 2017 (Courtesy of Bill Wippert)

Following guidelines, there can only be 50 people in the venue at the rink area at any one time. Spectators are not allowed to attend. “We’re determined to bring the game to our community and to continue to raise awareness,” added Lesakowski passionately.

In previous years, we loved having the community be able to come into HarborCenter and watch all the action. “We felt like we needed to bring the game to them this year. That’s why we’ll be livestreaming. The feed will be shown at 11DayPowerPlay.com and on our Youtube channel.”

The Game Carries On

Given the re-scheduling of the event and pushing it back to August, some players and teams have had to pass on this year’s event. Whether it was work schedules, vacation plans or prior commitments, there are fewer participants this year. “We still have more than 1,300 dedicated players that want to play something,” said Lesakowski. “It’s roughly 60 percent participation, which we’re really happy with.”

“We’ve scheduled roughly 14 hours of hockey every day, but every day is a little different based on teams that could make it and teams that couldn’t.”

Following the format of previous years, the first shift will feature the “Original 40” –the players from the first year of the 11 Day Power Play matching up against this year’s top fundraisers.

The 11-Day Power Play Players post game
The original 40 players of the 11 Day Power Play forged a bond that will last a lifetime. (Courtesy of Bill Wippert)

Every night during the event there will be a livestream starting at 7 pm. It’ll feature highlights from the day, stories from players and their reasons for playing. It will also have segments providing insight into how the funds are being used by the event’s beneficiaries to make an impact in the community.

Putting Cancer on Ice

Since the debut of the 11 Day Power Play in 2017, it has raised more than a million dollars each year, totaling more than $5 million. This year fundraising is closing in on the million mark.

The 11 Day Power Play has several beneficiaries, including Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center which conducts cutting-edge cancer research and wellness programs, Camp Good Days which supports quality of life for children, adults and families affected by cancer, Make-A-Wish Western New York which grants wishes and amazing experiences to kids with life-threatening illnesses, and Oishei Children’s Hospital. A portion of the funds raised will also support Roswell Park’s COVID-19 Response Fund.

Living in an RV

Amy and her husband, Mike, who prides himself on being the event’s top fundraiser every year and for playing the most number of shifts, will be living large during the 11-day event. They’re going to be kickin’ back in style in an RV for the week and a half. “It just made sense, given how much time we spend at the event,” said Lesakowski who sounded like she was fired up for the adventure.

Mike and Amy will be livestreaming every night from 7-11pm. People can actually communicate with the dynamic duo on YouTube. “Viewers can actually donate, too, and pay to have their comment be highlighted.”

The staff, players, and volunteers are determined to continue to make a difference and steadfastly support one another in raising money to fight cancer. Even during a pandemic.

Amy sincerely hopes they get a lot of coverage on social media. “Our biggest struggle is letting people know that, yes, the event is really happening.” She added, “Hopefully we get picked up.”

It’s ironic that Amy chose those words. She and Mike have created an annual event that’s been picking up an entire community since 2017. They’re the guiding force behind an event that’s been lifting the hopes and dreams of everyone in western New York and those who have been touched by cancer, as we all look for a way to defeat it.