Thursday night, the hockey puck will drop at HarborCenter as an ambitious attempt to set a new record gets underway. Two teams of volunteers will spend the next 11 days playing a continuous game of hockey. While participants in the 11 Day Power Play seek to become the longest-ever hockey game played, the larger goal is to raise one million dollars for cancer research.
The 11 Day Power Play game will open at HarborCenter, beginning at 9 p.m., following pregame ceremonies. It will be a standard hockey game, featuring referees and a scorekeeper. The only periodic stoppages in play will be an hourly resurfacing of the ice by a zamboni.
Two teams of approximately 20 players each will further divide into smaller groups to keep the game running by taking shifts. After playing for four-and-a-half straight hours, a group will rest for several hours in cots located within the rink and then take up another shift.
For the past several months, participants have trained, both on the ice and off, in organized workout sessions.
"We're all a little crazy, that's for sure, but it's the cause," said Todd Anderson, one of the participants.
All of those playing, and many volunteering time in supporting roles, have been touched in their lives by cancer, either losing a loved one to the illness, having a loved one survive it or perhaps personally overcoming the disease.
Mike Lesakowski has had mixed results in his personal life. His wife survived her struggle while his mother passed away after a three-year battle. He and his peers believe they'll physically be up to the challenge but will often times be tested mentally.
"When it gets tough, I'm going to think about seeing my wife going through chemo and seeing friends of mine and family in the hospital, knowing they weren't going to leave," Lesakowski said.
The current holders of the longest-running hockey game are based in Alberta. Lesakowski said they, too, completed their feat for charity and have been supportive of the Buffalo effort to break the record.
The Buffalo Sabres are lending some star power to the cause. Broadcaster Ric Jeanneret and former player turned Broadcaster Rob Ray are scheduled to volunteer time serving in similar roles inside HarborCenter. Former Sabres captain Michael Peca, whose wife is a cancer survivor, is also expected to play a role in the game.
But it's the everyday people who will take turns keeping a hockey game continuing for 11 days that will be the stars to many. Even the players, though, have their own heroes, including young Emmett Jakubowski, an 11-year-old Buffalo boy who currently is fighting two forms of leukemia. Jakubowski is serving as an ambassador for the event.
"He's our motivation along with a lot of family members and friends," Anderson said.