(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

The BC Interior Forestry Museum’s Riverside Forest Walk on Highway 23, north of Revelstoke, begins at their parking lot. (Jocelyn Doll/Revelstoke Review)
Revelstoke trail network to expand with the help of CBT funding

Four Revelstoke projects received a total of almost $80,000

B.C.’s court of appeal in Vancouver. (File photo: Tom Zytaruk)
Kootenay man appeals 7-year conviction for New Year’s Eve kidnapping, beating

Brandon Coons, 27, was convicted on five charges, including assault with a weapon

Lesley Garlow, Indigenous educator at Touchstones Museum of Art and History, with two of many red dresses hanging outside Nelson City Hall as part of the REDress Project by Métis artist Jaime Black. Photo: Bill Metcalfe
Red dress exhibit outside Nelson City Hall calls for justice for Indigenous women and girls

The REDress Project has also been installed in Touchstones gallery

The province is adding 144 new child-care spaces to the West Kootenay. File photo
Province adds 144 child-care spaces to West Kootenay

New projects announced for Castlegar, Nakusp, Winlaw and Nelson

Island Health chief medical officer Dr. Richard Stanwick receives a first dose of Pfizer vaccine, Dec. 22, 2020. (B.C. government)
COVID-19 vaccination set to start for B.C. seniors aged 80-plus

Long-term care residents protected by shots already given

Det. Sgt. Jim Callender. (Hamilton Police Service screenshot)
B.C. man dead, woman seriously injured after shooting in Hamilton, Ont.

The man was in the process of moving to the greater Toronto area, police say

(Black Press file photo)
Child in critical condition, homicide investigators probe incident near Agassiz

The child was transported to hospital but is not expected to survive

Sewage plant in Lower Mainland, operated by Metro Vancouver. (Metro Vancouver screenshot)
‘Poop tracker’ launches as researchers test Lower Mainland sewage water for COVID-19

‘Studying the virus in wastewater allows researchers to look at an entire population…’

(Pxhere)
Compensation fund opens for B.C. students negatively affected by incorrect exam marks

Marks for 2019 provincial exams were incorrectly tabulated

THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
Time to check the mail: Every household to receive a Canada Post postcard this spring

Postcard can be mailed for free to any address in Canada

The humanoid sensing robot has a 3D printed finger cap that measures oxygen levels. (Dr. Woo Soo Kim)
Medical care robots being made with 3D origami in B.C. lab

Would you let a robot take your temperature?

B.C. Premier Gordon Campbell gets acquainted with Tsawwassen First Nation Chief Kim Baird’s 10-month-old daughter Sophia, husband Steve and four-year-old Amy at the B.C. legislature before a ceremony to endorse the Tsawwassen Treaty, Oct. 15, 2007. (Sharon Tiffin/Black Press)
Indigenous consent must come first and last for B.C. industrial projects

UN declaration seen as end to a history of horror stories

Most Read