Amid blis­ters and monotony, hockey marathon hits 7th day

Lodi News-Sentinel - - Quick Hits - By John Wawrow

BUF­FALO, N.Y. — It was just past 4 a.m. on Thurs­day when An­drew Tokasz de­cided it was time to in­ject some en­ergy into a hockey game that was en­ter­ing its sev­enth con­sec­u­tive day.

Shortly af­ter Team White’s Kenny Corp scored on a back­han­der from the slot to cut Team Blue’s lead to 1,0731,058, Tokasz grabbed the nob of his stick as if it were a mi­cro­phone and be­gan singing along to the cho­rus of Van Mor­ri­son’s “Brown Eyed Girl” play­ing over the Har­borCen­ter loud­speak­ers.

Why not belt out a cou­ple of “sha-la-la lah-ti-das?” Any­thing to break the monotony when the stands are empty ex­cept for a jan­i­tor mop­ping the floor, and blis­ters are about the only things pop­ping on the ice.

“That’s the tough­est,” Kenny Haynes said, re­fer­ring to play­ing the four-hour overnight shift of a game that be­gan with plenty of buzz on June 22 and isn’t sched­uled to end un­til Mon­day morn­ing.

“There’s no one here. You get up. It’s the mid­dle of night,” Haynes said. “And when the sun start’s com­ing up, and you’re like, ‘Oh, that’s cool.”’

“Yeah,” in­ter­jected Mike Le­sakowski. “But then you’re go­ing to bed.” They’re not com­plain­ing. This is, af­ter all, what the 40 Buf­faloarea rec-league play­ers — many of them in their 40s — signed up for a year ago when Le­sakowski broached the idea of “The 11-Day Power Play “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.

They’ve al­ready sur­passed the mone­tary goal by rais­ing $1.09 mil­lion for Buf­falo’s Roswell Park Cancer In­sti­tute.

As for the on-ice ob­jec­tive, there’s an over­rid­ing sense of op­ti­mism that the worst just might be over now that they’re past the half­way point.

“I think the hump ar­rived be­tween yes­ter­day and to­day,” Le­sakowski said.

Sun­day was the worst for Justen Ehrig.

“I’m usu­ally pretty tough men­tally, but Day 3 was re­ally try­ing for me,” the 30-year-old said. “I got off the ice and was re­ally de­pressed. I ac­tu­ally started to tear up at one point. I didn’t know why. I just crashed or some­thing. Once I got past that, I was fine.”

There have been both men­tal and phys­i­cal chal­lenges to over­come.

Equip­ment doesn’t dry fast enough even though most play­ers brought two sets each. Get­ting enough sleep is an is­sue with 40 play­ers crammed into four rooms.

“I had a shift where I was four (hours) on, four off, four on at the very be­gin­ning, and I don’t think I got more than two or three hours (of sleep),” Steve Roder said. “You’d think you’d be knocked out and you would just lay down and, boom. But it’s so hard to shut it down.”

So much for the all-night poker and video-game tour­na­ments some thought would hap­pen.

“You get off the ice, you eat, go to the bath­room, go to bed, and then you’re up and do­ing the same thing over again,” Ehrig said.

Two play­ers have been side­lined for var­i­ous stretches due to ill­ness and fa­tigue. They in­cluded goalie Ryan Martin, who came down with strep throat last week­end and had to be quar­an­tined so not to in­fect other play­ers be­fore be­ing cleared to re­turn on Wed­nes­day.

Their ab­sences placed a bur­den on the re­main­ing 38 play­ers to fill the shifts be­cause ros­ter sub­sti­tu­tions aren’t al­lowed once the game be­gins.

There have also been sev­eral high points dur­ing the marathon in which the score­sheet has now sur­passed 33 pages.

Early Satur­day, Le­sakowski’s brother showed up with sev­eral of his em­ploy­ees and tossed an oc­to­pus on the ice, a scene fa­mil­iar to fans of the Detroit Red Wings. News of the event has spread across the coun­try, with one wo­man from Seat­tle calling Har­borCen­ter’s main num­ber seek­ing to buy a T-shirt.

Much of the credit is be­ing paid to a med­i­cal staff that’s on hand 24 hours a day to deal with in­juries, tape blis­tered feet and pro­vide mas­sages.

Play­ers have a din­ing room, where much of the food has been do­nated by lo­cal restau­rants. Pizza, for ex­am­ple, ar­rives each night at 10 p.m.

What keeps them go­ing is a tight bond de­vel­oped af­ter spend­ing much of the past year train­ing. They’re also driven by know­ing the money they’re rais­ing is go­ing to an im­por­tant cause.

“We’ll take a few blis­ters to raise money to cure some of these can­cers,” Roder said.

In ret­ro­spect, the eas­i­est part has ac­tu­ally been play­ing hockey. Each pe­riod lasts an hour, with play­ers get­ting 10minute breaks while the ice is cleaned. The game pro­ceeds at mostly a plod­ding pace given there is only one sub­sti­tute per team. Ic­ings are com­mon and so are the oc­ca­sional scrums of play­ers chat­ting at one end of the ice while the play is go­ing on at the other end.

“It’s a marathon not a sprint,” as Roder put it with a laugh.

And yet, there are oc­ca­sional bursts of en­ergy with odd-man breaks and de­fense­men rac­ing back in a bid to negate a scor­ing op­por­tu­nity.

The tight score is a re­flec­tion of how com­pet­i­tive the play­ers are. Af­ter Team Blue opened a 16-goal lead, Team White ral­lied to cut it to 1,090-1,082 by 6 a.m.

“Ev­ery­one in this is prob­a­bly com­pet­i­tive and you can’t turn that off,” Haynes said. “When you’re down 15, you don’t want to go down 16 so you start play­ing a lit­tle harder to make sure you’re not go­ing to give them a free­bie.”

The only ex­cep­tion they might make is if the game’s tied once the record is bro­ken.

There are no plans to set­tle it in a shootout.

Break­ing into a laugh, Le­sakowski said: “One of the guys said that if it’s tied at the very end, ‘I’m go­ing to turn around and score on my own goalie.”’

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