(THE CANADIAN PRESS/Peter Power)

Pucks shatter, blades break: Alberta hockey players face off against bitter cold for cancer

Temperatures have dropped to between -40 C and -55 C

Brent Saik laughs when asked how 40 players in the world’s longest hockey game are handling the bitter cold on an outdoor rink.

“It’s been horrible,” the event’s founder told The Canadian Press this week as an extreme cold warning continued across Alberta. “You can always try to dress for cold.

“We didn’t expect to dress for cold … for the entire time.”

Pucks shatter as players pass them along the boards. Skate blades are breaking in half. Pieces of masks are falling off as glue lets go and goalie pads are cracking in the cold.

Temperatures have dropped to between -40 C and -55 C with the wind chill at times this week and, although it’s supposed to warm up slightly on the weekend, the cold snap isn’t expected to lift until Monday.

That’s the same day the game meant to raise $1.5 million to fund cancer research at the University of Alberta is to hit its 252-hour goal around 6 a.m. and break its own Guinness World Record.

Saik, an eye doctor, started the game in 2003 after losing his father to cancer and decided to keep it going after his wife also died from the disease.

This year’s game — the seventh edition — has already been one for the record books.

“It’s been out of this world,” goalie Andrew Buchanan, a firefighter and paramedic in Strathcona County just east of Edmonton, where the game is being played, said Thursday.

There are challenges on the ice, but it also isn’t easy to warm up off the ice. Players are living in trailers set up on Saik’s rural property in an “NHL-style bubble” after receiving a special exemption from the province to play during COVID-19 restrictions.

Buchanan said furnaces in the trailers can’t keep up with the cold.

“We’re out on the ice playing for six, eight, 10 hours at a time and then you just want to get some warm sleep,” he said. “That’s not the case when it’s -54 C with the wind chill.

“I’ve never seen anything like it before.”

Buchanan, who dresses in four base layers, battery-powered socks, two pairs of gloves with handwarmers and a full balaclava, said the game has been full of ups and downs.

“It’s a constant emotional roller-coaster,” he said, noting he’s dedicated his play to all first responders. “What’s so amazing, as soon as you’re down, you have another person picking you right back up.

“Every player brings pictures of how cancer has affected us and we line up those people in the dressing room, so you just look around and see who you’re playing for.”

Fans aren’t allowed to watch in person this year, but they can drive past the rink to honk or wave.

Buchanan said those visits have been great motivation when it’s cold and the energy is waning.

“All of a sudden a fan will pull up, put up a picture of their loved one who is either battling cancer or has unfortunately passed away from cancer,” he said. “It just motivates you and picks the energy up again and you keep going.”

Saik agreed there’s been lots of motivation to keep playing.

“This has been by far the hardest game that I’ve ever done,” he said. “But it’s working and we’re going to raise the money that’s needed, so we’re in good shape.”

— By Colette Derworiz in Edmonton.

READ MORE: Maple Ridge man lucky to be alive after snowmobile accident near Enderby

READ MORE: Markstrom makes 33 saves as Flames trip slumping Canucks 3-1

Like us on Facebook and follow us on Twitter.

Want to support local journalism? Make a donation here.

hockey

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Greg Janicki (left), owner of Dogwood Pet Mart rasied $410 this year for the Campbell River SPCA’s Loonies for Love fundraiser which he presented to Stephanie Arkwright, branch manager of the BCSPCA – Campbell River Community Animal Centre. Photo contributed
Pandemic doesn’t stop annual Loonies for Love SPCA fundraiser

Fundraising has been a bit challenging over the past year, but the… Continue reading

NIC Engineering student Johnny Marshall lowers a prototype oyster grow-out system into the ocean for testing in Campbell River. Photo courtesy NIC
NIC partners with Cortes shellfish company on oyster research

Study and testing hoping to mitigate the impacts of warming oceans on oyster mortality

The intersection at Dogwood Street and 13th Avenue, next to the No. 1 Firehall, will see some improvements over the next six weeks or so, according to the city. Photo by Mike Davies/Campbell River Mirror
Intersection improvements coming to Dogwood and 13th Avenue

Expect delays for up to six weeks once work begins, city says

Oyster River fire has responded to 56 calls so far in 2021. Photo courtesy Oyster River Fire Department
Oyster River Fire averaged one call per day in busy February

One weekend saw 12 calls for service from crew

The students in the Timberline Musical Theatre program are rehearsing this year’s production, Once Upon a Mattress, three days per week after school in preparation for their upcoming virtual performances. Photo by Mike Davies/Campbell River Mirror
Timberline Musical Theatre hoping for last minute ticket surge

Popular annual run of shows costs $7,000-$8,000 to put on. They’ve sold $750 in tickets

Health Minister Adrian Dix looks on as Dr. Bonnie Henry pauses for a moment as she gives her daily media briefing regarding COVID-19 for British Columbia in Victoria, B.C. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
7 additional deaths and 542 new COVID-19 cases in B.C.

Provincial health officials reported 18 new COVID-19 cases linked to variants of concern

Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

The Regional District of Nanaimo’s board is forwarding a motion on illegal dumping to the Association of Vancouver Island and Coastal Communities’ upcoming annual general meeting. (Kane Blake photo)
Island communities asked to join forces in seeking help fighting illegal dumping

RDN resolution to be forwarded to Association of Vancouver Island and Coastal Communities

Jobs Minister Ravi Kahlon speaks in the B.C. legislature, describing work underway to make a small business and tourism aid package less restrictive, Dec. 10, 2020. (Hansard TV)
B.C. extends deadline for tourism, small business COVID-19 grants

Business owners expect months more of lost revenues

Protestors against old growth logging gather in front of the courthouse in Victoria on Thursday morning. (Don Denton/Black Press Media)
Protesters gather at Victoria courthouse to oppose Port Renfrew logging

Logging company seeks injunction to remove blockades near its Port Renfrew operation

Mid day at the Vancouver Port Intersection blockade on March 3, organized by the Braided Warriors. (Zoë Ducklow photo)
Anti-pipeline blockade at Vancouver intersection broken up by police

Demonstraters were demanding the release of a fellow anti-TMX protester

One person is dead after a camper van caught fire Thursday morning in Victoria's Beacon Hill Park. (Nina Grossman/News Staff)
One person dead after vehicle fire in Victoria park

Investigation into Beacon Hill Park death in early stages

(Government of B.C.)
Chelsea Harry was last seen Feb. 21. Photo via Comox Valley RCMP
Vancouver Island RCMP seeking help locating a missing woman

Missing person last seen in Courtenay on Feb. 21

Most Read