The 11-Day Power Play is now in day five inside Buffalo's HarborCenter. The third-annual marathon charity hockey game reached a fundraising milestone Monday. An estimated 2,500 local hockey players are taking turns in what organizers and original players say is no easy feat, keeping a continuing game in progress for 11 continuous days. To gain a better appreciation for the participants, this year I became one.
My three-hour shift was with a team known as the Cancer Fighting Comets, made up of men from various professional backgrounds and ages. Its captain was Tim Collins, who lost both parents to cancers and has loved ones and friends who have battled various forms of the disease more recently. When speaking to the team in advance of our shift's start, he reminded players that they were playing for loved ones who have survived cancer, have died from it and, in many cases, will one day have it.
"Cancer is something that is here to stay with us until we can figure out a way to beat it completely," Collins said. "The folks at 11 Day are doing a great job trying to raise money for everybody, including Camp Good Days and Make-A-Wish. Those kids need something too. As far as cancer goes, we've got to keep on top of this thing and we've got to get it buried as fast as we can."
The organizations Collins identified are beneficiaries along with Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center. In addition to providing funding for cancer research, some dollars support the other two organizations to aid children who have either been directly affected by the disease or who may have family members battling it.
Most everyone in the dressing room brought with them some connection to cancer. Travis Krieger, one of the younger skaters on the Comets, revealed he had a grandfather who had cancer and he also a good friend, former coach and minor-league pro player Michael Bycina, who died at the age of 53.
Karl Maciag, a friend of Collins, skated on the team along with his son. He lost two grandmothers to cancer and has an uncle who survived his battle. He spoke of how hockey in Western New York works well as a means to raise support for cancer research.
"It seems that everybody around here has a family member that plays and so I think it's really easy to get a lot of guys on the ice and do it for a good cause," he said.
Not just guys, mind you, but also women and children. Many of the participants, including one who skated with the Comets' opponents, are women. Some Community Shifts were se aside for youth hockey players to play. One shift on opening day, July 5, featured sled hockey players.
Getting the players to sign up may be easy but playing itself, organizers and past players insisted, isn't.
In the 11 Day Power Play's first running, in 2017, 40 men set a new world record for longest continuing hockey game. They did so by breaking into smaller groups who would take turns play four-hour segments, take eight hour breaks, return to the ice for four hours of hockey, go on another eight-hour break, and so forth.
Last year's introduction of the 11 Day Power Play Community Shifts allowed community and private teams to form and take a four-hour shift. This year, demand led event organizers to cut the shifts to three hours.
On a Monday morning, on day four of the 2019 11 Day Power Play, the Comets took the ice with 14 skaters and a goaltender. The three-hour shifts are formatted as 50 minutes of non-stop play, followed by a 10-minute break to resurface the ice, followed by 50 minutes of play, 10 minutes of resurfacing and then the final 50 minutes. That amounts to two and a half regulation National Hockey League or NCAA college games, only with no TV timeouts or stoppages for faceoffs with the exception of goals being scored.
"I think not only was this designed by Mike and Amy (Lesakowski) to raise money to find a cure for cancer, it was also designed to promote physical fitness, on and off the ice," said David Travers, one of the original 40 players from 2017.
To help prepare, I skated several Fridays with Travers and others who are playing with him during this year's edition of the 11 Day Power Play. They were hardly casual skates.
Travers' advice to me was to take the three-hour block seriously and don't treat it as just a longer version of a pickup game. That included increased exercises and dietary adjustments, not just a day or two right before my shift but well in advance.
"Your diet is just as important as your exercise," he said. "I've heard, many times, physicians say you can't out-exercise a bad diet."
The post-game beers and chicken wings of senior hockey league games past gave way to choices including bananas, avoidance of alcohol and fatty, greasy foods and even trying something that was advised by other who have played in this event in the past two years: pediatric electrolyte solution. The liquid, used primarily to help increase hydration in babies suffering from diarrhea, was suggested to me as a better alternative to commercial sports drinks. There I was, drinking it not only on game day but after during more intensive workouts prior to my shift and also the day before the Comets' three-hour slot.
By hour three, we were certainly feeling the fatigue, but as teammate Tristan Keelan suggested on the bench, we were hurting but what the people were playing fo did was suffer.
"We play hard for them. That's what we do, on the ice and off the ice," Krieger added. "We skated for, what, over 40 minutes, each player?"
That was 40 minutes per individual. Again, not an easy feat for the average amateur, even those in better physical condition. After nearly three hours, the Comets held a two-goal lead with just under two minutes to play but their rivals, a team sponsored by Moog Corporation, rallied to force a final 12-12 tie.
Following the conclusion of the Comets' three-hour shift, we met up in the hallway outside the dressing rooms with 11 Day co-founder and original player Mike Lesakowski, who after offering some playful jabs at the players' performances offered news about this year's campaign.
"We just surpassed $1.4 million," he said of this year's fundraising as of late Monday morning. "Upward and onward, no injuries. Everybody had fun?"
When he heard the reply of yes, he followed up by saying "hope to see you next year."