Shortly after 7 a.m. this morning, the official clock mounted in the stands overlooking center ice hit 10 days, 10 hours, 3 minutes and 21 seconds. At that point, the forty guys comprising the two teams of the 11-Day Power Play had a new unofficial Guinness World Record for playing the world’s longest continuous hockey game.
Fans stood and cheered, then play stopped briefly as players hugged on the benches and on the ice. The moment was more than a year in the making.
Thirty two minutes later, the buzzer sounded. The game that began at 9:01 p.m. on June 22 was finally over.
Never Giving Up
Be it an 11:30 p.m. shift on Tuesday evening or a 4 a.m. shift on a Friday morning, there were several times during this 251 hour-long game when there was no one in the stands watching. Yet the world’s longest hockey game continued.
For anyone but these determined, sleep-deprived, blister-covered, sore-beyond-words players, it would have been easy to give up. At times it seemed like the forty brave souls comprising the two teams were running on pure spirit. During the late nights and early morning hours, they often played in a cold, lonely HarborCenter.
“There’s a lot of people that would trade in a heartbeat getting out of that hospital bed and playing hockey for eleven days. In a heartbeat. And we know that. It never gets lost on us,” said event founder Mike Lesakowski.
Lesakowski took it upon himself to make sure every player selected for the event had the right motive.
“The biggest thing is make sure their passion’s in the right place,” Lesakowski said. “During some of the shifts at 1 a.m., you’ve got to find something in your belly that might not exist if you’re just in it to play a long hockey game.”
Fans Recharge Players
Even the smallest gestures made an impact. A silly sign taped to the glass. A puck flipped over the glass to a wide-eyed kid. Or a fleeting moment when a weary player would see a random person walk in and they’d have a moment of eye contact. “Every single person mattered,” said Lesakowski. “When you’re on the ice…even if it’s just one person in the stands, it helped give us energy.”
When friends or family showed up in the stands to watch, the exhaustion these players were carrying almost instantly lifted and was replaced with a smile. Fans had a way of helping reinvigorate their spirit and renew their focus.
Whether one witnessed these connections or were part of them, the energy derived was palpable in the cold HarborCenter rink. It was contagious. It’s what helped this band of brothers keep their sense of humor, shift after shift, day after day, night after night.
So Much To Celebrate
There’s so much to celebrate as the 251st consecutive hour approached and the world record became a reality.
First and foremost, there’s the pride in raising more than $1.2 million for Roswell Park Cancer Institute. The lofty $1 million goal was met before the puck even dropped on opening night. Countless dinners, raffles and auctions have been held. Corporate sponsors, businesses, friends and family members made donations. As the event gathered momentum and the word got out, donations have come in across the nation and from all over the world.
The Greater Buffalo Community
Then there’s the community coming out in such a huge way. Massage therapists, chiropractors, nutritionists, personal trainers and restaurants all pitched in. The list of those who have willingly and graciously offered up their time, services and goods goes on and on.
These are people that have made it a priority to keep the 40 players at their best in the months leading up to the event as well during the game itself. As Lesakowski said, “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.”
There’s Amy Lesakowski’s army of dedicated volunteers. “When we first planned this event, we anticipated needing about 800 volunteers,“ said Amy. “Turns out, we have less than 250, because so many of them have signed up for multiple shifts.” In addition to showing up on time and taking their responsibilities seriously, they’ve bonded together. “It’s like a family,” Amy added. “Everywhere you turn, somebody’s like what can I do?”
They helped with merchandise sales, making sure there were meals for the players and even doing laundry.
The wear and tear on players’ hands and feet is one thing. But it also affected the volunteers’ noses.
There are two different locker rooms. One with the players’ street clothes and one with their equipment. That’s the one you definitely don’t want to walk by. Despite getting a laundry bag with their name on it to fill after every four and a half hour shift, the hockey locker room that has all of their equipment took on a life of its own. “Yeah, it’s pretty ripe,” chuckled Mike Lesakowski.
“The laundry is constant,” said Amy Lesakowski. “But even with that, I have noticed the odor has gotten significantly stinkier.”
The World Record
There’s the pride in achieving a Guinness Book of World Record which will be affirmed in the next few months, once paperwork is filed and video is reviewed. Mike Lesakowski was adamant the world record not become the focus of the 11-Day Power Play.
“The record makes it interesting and gives it some life,” he said. “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.”
There’s the incredible selflessness and encouragement of Dr. Brent Saik in Edmonton and Alex Halat in Calgary. Many months ago, when the idea of this event was still in its infancy, Mike Lesakowski called both of them out of the blue. “Those guys. I don’t know what to say about them. They’re just incredible,” said Lesakowski.
Saik, organizer of the longest game prior to this event, never hesitated when asked to help. The first words out of his mouth were “What do you need? I want to help.”
Halat, organizer of several hockey marathon games in Calgary, has been sharing all the tips and secrets to success with Lesakowski almost weekly, for a year.
There’s the players–the band of brothers–that have lived and experienced this journey together, creating a bond so strong that it will never ever be forgotten. For most, it’s a journey that started almost a year ago when Mike Lesakowski offered up a crazy idea to them. Since then, they’ve skated together. They’ve trained together. They’ve shared meals together. They’ve visited Roswell together. And they’ve experienced every imaginable emotion, from laughter to tears, together.
Faced with mental and physical challenges, these men never gave up. As the scoresheet pages were multiplying, so too were their blisters. Yet they never faltered; driven by the knowledge that the fruits of their effort will be used to fight cancer.
The Human Spirit
Perhaps the most important thing that the 11-Day Power Play has done is renewed faith in the human spirit. Knowing that people from all walks of life, of all ages, can be unified to accomplish something greater than any one of them could have accomplished on their own. It’s knowing that an idea can grow into a dream and that dream can come true.
Many things fuel the players to keep them going. “It’s the least I could do, along with 39 other guys, try to change the future and make cancer a disease people live with instead of unfortunately dying with,” said player Andrew Case. “Inspiration gets you through it. I’ll think about my dads (two of them who both passed away due to cancer), I’ll think about my friends’ parents.”
Mike Lesakowski’s description of the 11-Day Power Play was always, “We’re just a bunch of ordinary guys doing something extraordinary.”
Make no mistake, these ordinary guys have done just that. Congratulations.
This video shows how world record-holders celebrate finishing the longest hockey game ever played.
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.”