(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

A protest has been planned for March 5, 2020 over Penticton council’s decision to reject an application from BC Housing to keep an emergency winter shelter open over a year longer than originally planned. (Jesse Day - Western News)
‘Bring your tent’: Protest planned in Penticton’s Gyro Park over winter shelter closure

Protesters plan to show council ‘what the result of their decision will look like’

Penticton mayor John Vassilaki responded to BC Housing minster David Eby’s remarks that the city has put themselves at risk of creating a tent city Wednesday, March 3, 2020. (Western News file photo)
Penticton mayor calls out BC Housing minister for ‘irresponsible fear-mongering’

Council recently rejected BC Housing’s request to keep a winter shelter open longer than first planned

Robert Emms spotted these beauties in a waterway in downtown Penticton. (Robert Emms)
Trumpeter swans visit downtown Penticton

The beautiful birds are regulars near the shores of Okanagan Lake on Highway 97

Ecologist and writer Don Gayton wraps up the Penticton Arts Council’s March events. (Submitted)
Penticton Arts Council unveils March’s programs

Making your own comics and short stories highlight March events

After 20 years in the community, Pathways Addiction Recovery Centre has had its funding cut by Interior Health, who says they are bringing addictions services in-house now. (Facebook)
Community outraged at Interior Health’s decision to cut funding to Penticton addiction services centre

People question why Pathways addiction services would be cut during an overdose epidemic

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

John Hordyk said it isn’t fair to just look at COVID-19 deaths as many survivors are experiencing long-term impacts, himself included. (Photo by Rachel Muise)
Not getting better: Revelstoke man diagnosed with post-COVID-19 syndrome

‘I hope the damage isn’t long term, but it could be permanent’

The City of Vancouver estimates there are 3,500 Canada geese in the city right now, and that number is growing. (Bruce Hogarth)
Help tame Vancouver’s Canada goose population by reporting nests: park officials

The city is asking residents to be on the lookout so staff can remove nests or addle eggs

Chief Justice Christopher Hinkson (Office of the Chief Justice)
Judge questions whether B.C.’s top doctor appreciated right to religious freedom

Lawyer for province says Dr. Henry has outlined the reasons for her orders publicly

A sample of guns seized at the Pacific Highway border crossing from the U.S. into B.C. in 2014. Guns smuggled from the U.S. are used in criminal activity, often associated with drug gangs. (Canada Border Service Agency)
B.C. moves to seize vehicles transporting illegal firearms

Bill bans sale of imitation or BB guns to young people

A recently published study out of UBC has found a link between life satisfaction levels and overall health. (Pixabay)
Satisfied with life? It’s likely you’re healthier for it: UBC study

UBC psychologists have found those more satisfied with their life have a 26% reduced risk of dying

A vial of some of the first 500,000 of the two million AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine doses that Canada has secured through a deal with the Serum Institute of India in partnership with Verity Pharma at a facility in Milton, Ont., on Wednesday, March 3, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Carlos Osorio - POOL
Federal panel recommends 4-month gap between COVID vaccine doses due to limited supply

The recommendation applies to all COVID-19 vaccines currently approved in Canada

A vial of Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine is pictured at a family doctor office, Thursday, Feb. 25, 2021 in Paris. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP -Christophe Ena
Trudeau ‘optimistic’ that timeline for rollout of COVID vaccines can be accelerated

Canada set to receive more than 6M COVID-19 vaccine dose than initially expected, by end of March

The restart of the program means seniors can receive affordable meals delivered five days a week Photo by Scott Suchman for The Washington Post.
Princeton Meals on Wheels one year trial will cost $92k

Program restarts, and volunteer drivers are needed

Most Read