Game on ... and on: 11-day hockey marathon set for Buffalo
By JOHN WAWROW, AP Hockey Writer
BUFFALO, N.Y. (AP) — For Mike Lesakowski and 39 of his hockey-playing friends, it’s game on.
And on and on and on.
From the opening faceoff Thursday night to the final whistle set for the morning of July 3, the group of mostly 40-something Buffalonians will be on the ice playing one continuous game spanning 11 days — or 251 hours, to be exact.
Their goal is to raise $1 million for cancer research and break the Guinness World Record mark of 250 hours, 3 minutes, 20 seconds set during an outdoor game in Alberta in 2015.
If it sounds a little farfetched, Lesakowski won’t argue.
“Yeah,” he said with a laugh, “that’s a good way to put it.”
Teams will be split into groups of about seven players (five skaters, a goalie and a spare), with each playing four-hour shifts. They will get 10-minute breaks each hour while the ice is being cleaned.
Aside from countless aching bones and worn-out skates, Lesakowski projects there will be more than 4,000 goals scored. And with referees and linesmen on hand they will have official scorekeepers logging stats, as required by Guinness.
Credit Nicholas Fattey with the first goal, scored on a backhander, 8:21 into the game.
“I’ll give myself 80 goals,” said Lesakowski, who played college hockey at nearby Fredonia State College. “That’s a lofty goal. But you know what, so is a million bucks.”
They’ve already surpassed that total. It was announced during the opening ceremonies that the marathon, dubbed “The 11 Day Power Play ,” had generated $1.017 million in pledges.
Raising money for Buffalo’s Roswell Park Cancer Institute is what makes this personal for the 45-year-old Lesakowski.
He first broached the idea in 2009 after his wife was successfully treated at Roswell for breast cancer. Unable to put the plan in place then, he re-dedicated his efforts some 15 months ago when his mother died of cancer.
He formed a committee and the Buffalo Sabres’ newly constructed two-rink HarborCenter complex agreed to host the event.
Lesakowski drew upon friends and fellow adult league players to fill about half the slots. The rest of the roster was filled through an application process. So many applied that players had to be turned away.
In selecting an older group of players, Lesakowski wanted to assemble a team of not merely hockey enthusiasts, but those able to commit to the mental and physical challenges as well as generate at least $10,000 in pledges each.
To form the right groups he drew on those who organized similar marathons.
“The biggest thing is make sure their passion’s in the right place,” Lesakowski said. “Because on June 29 at 3 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.”
Once the marathon begins, the rosters are set. Any player who backs out or gets injured can’t be replaced, meaning more ice time for others. To prepare, they’ve held four-hour practices and also held a 24-hour session to replicate what one day might resemble.
The real unknown is how they’ll react to the grind once the initial jolt of adrenaline wears off.
“I think all of us know the first segment, the first couple of days. We figured a lot of things out with training,” said Allan Davis, who at 61 checks in as the oldest player. “But after that, no, I really don’t know. I said this morning, though, I couldn’t be in better shape for it, so let’s go.”
The key is pacing themselves and understanding their limits, goalie Les Kuntar said.
For him, that means not diving for every puck.
“I was very competitive,” said Kuntar, who played professionally, including a six-game stint with the Montreal Canadiens in 1993-94. “But I think now, at 47 years old, I know what my body can and can’t do.”
Not getting hurt particularly applies to the goalies. There are only two per team and each skater is already scheduled to take a turn playing net at least once.
One player has already had to be replaced at the last minute after David Hage broke his collarbone playing hockey on Monday.
Former Sabres captain Michael Peca had to back out a few months ago. His doctor told him that playing four-hour stretches would require surgery for injuries from his playing career.
“I liken it to a player who got injured right before a long playoff run,” said Peca, who will serve as an honorary coach. “Though you can’t be a part of it on the ice, you still want to make sure you’re a positive influence in doing everything you can to help out off it.”
Peca played 864-regular-season-games during his NHL career. That amounts to about 36 straight days of hockey — a little over three times more than what the Buffalo marathon will cover.
“Once you start thinking about all the things that go into it, it does sound a little crazy,” Peca said. “But you know what, sometimes if you want to do something special for other people, you might have to do something a bit crazy to achieve it.”
The marathon is open to the public, and bands have been booked to play.
It also won’t be all play and no work for some, including Lesakowski, a partner in an environmental consulting firm. Office space is being provided for those who might need to deal with work-related matters between on-ice shifts.
Eager as Lesakowski is for the first puck to drop, he’s curious as to what he might feel like once it’s over.
“I’ve got a feeling the adrenaline will be going for a little while after the morning of July 3,” he said. “I might not be able to sleep. Thank goodness July 4 is a holiday. I may forgo the fireworks this year.”
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