The third annual 11 Day Power Play, a marathon hockey game which raises money for cancer research, got underway inside HarborCenter in downtown Buffalo Friday morning. An estimated 2,500 players are taking part in the second edition of the program's Community Shifts.
When it debuted in 2017, forty players staged a game which set a new world record for its length, while raising more than one million dollars for cancer. In 2018, the 11 Day Power Play introduced the Community Shift, creating four-hour blocks of time to allow members of the community to form teams and contribute to the 11-day around-the-clock game.
The Community Shift was a success, again raising more than one million dollars. Demand for the 2019 edition was so high that organizers moved to reduce the time blocks to three hours.
"We had so many people in the community wanting to be part of that first year, when we only had the 40 men playing," said Amy Lesakowski, co-founder and executive director of the 11 Day Power Play. "We knew, based on that, that we really needed to open this up to all ages, men and women."
Lesakowski says there are 2,500 players signed up for this year's edition and there's a wait list of players who will be called upon as "free agents," in the event a registered player is injured or otherwise cannot fulfill a shift.
Many of the "original 40" will return to participate. David Travers is one of them.
"That's incredible really," he replied, when asked about the growth of the program. "Mike and Amy Lesakowski, when we did the original 11 Day to break the world record and start this whole thing, I think this was their vision. I know this was their vision."
Even before the puck dropped for the first shift early Friday morning, the 2019 campaign raised more than $1 million. In addition to supporting Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center, funds are also going toward Make-A-Wish and to Camp Good Days.
"Cancer affects the entire family," Lesakowski said. "We've been able to, in the last year, send nearly 100 kids to Camp Good Days for free and we've also granted nearly 20 wishes to local families. All the funds that we do raise through the 11 Day Power Play stay local."
The hockey game will continue non-stop through July 15. Admission to the game is free to the public. Many may encounter yet another new addition to the 11 Day Power Play, its own mascot. Lesakowski explained that she had a dream last fall to get a mascot. Working with Buffalo advertising firm Crowley Webb, they developed Petey.
Having a mascot, Lesakowski believes, will provide an awareness for the program for the lengthy periods of time between the 11-day game and opening recruitment for the following year's run.
"Petey Power Play will be seen throughout Western New York all through the year, leading up to next year," she said. "He is the symbol of us, fighting cancer."
Petey even comes with a story line, having a mother who survived lung cancer. To symbolize that, Petey - a navy and light blue bison donning an 11 Day Power Play uniform - wears a white ribbon.
The players who participate in the hockey event all detail stories of how cancer has touched their lives. For Travers, there are newer connections that have emerged since he and 39 others completed the inaugural game in 2017.
"A good friend of mine's mother just passed away last week," he said. "No matter where you look, every single day of our lives somebody is affected. Our community, as we all know, is a wonderful community. It's a friendship community, it's a hockey community, and when you combine those two things you get awesome results."