(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

Just Posted

Alberta is now below 3,000 active cases of COVID-19, as the province reported 2,639 Wednesday. (NIAID-RML via AP)
Red Deer below 100 active COVID-19 cases for first time since March

69.7 per cent of Albertans 12 and over have at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine

Premier Jason Kenney says the provincial government is doing everything it can to encourage Albertans to get vaccinated. (Photo by Chris Schwarz/Government of Alberta)
Travel prizes added to Alberta’s vaccine lottery

More than 40 travel rewards available for those who are fully vaccinated

Three calves were recently shot dead in Lacombe County near Mirror. (Photo from Facebook)
Calves shot and left for dead in central Alberta

Bashaw RCMP investigating three shootings

People line up to get their COVID-19 vaccine at a vaccination centre, Thursday, June 10, 2021 in Montreal. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Ryan Remiorz
Vaccines, low COVID case counts increase Father’s Day hope, but risk is still there

Expert says people will have to do their own risk calculus before popping in on Papa

The Calgary skyline is seen on Friday, Sept. 15, 2017. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jeff McIntosh
2 deaths from COVID-19 Delta variant in Alberta, 1 patient was fully immunized

Kerry Williamson with Alberta Health Services says the patients likely acquired the virus in the hospital

A vial containing the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine is shown at a vaccination site in Marcq en Baroeul, outside Lille, northern France, Saturday, March 20, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/AP/Michel Spingler
mRNA vaccines ‘preferred’ for all Canadians, including as 2nd dose after AstraZeneca: NACI

New recommendations prioritizes Pfizer, Moderna in almost all cases

House Majority Whip James Clyburn, D-S.C., center left, reaches over to Rep. Maxine Waters, D-Calif., joined by Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., center, and members of the Congressional Black Caucus as they celebrate the Juneteenth National Independence Day Act that creates a new federal holiday to commemorate June 19, 1865, when Union soldiers brought the news of freedom to enslaved Black people after the Civil War, at the Capitol in Washington, Thursday, June 17, 2021. It’s the first new federal holiday since Martin Luther King Jr. Day was created in 1983. (AP Photo/J. Scott Applewhite)
Biden to sign bill making Juneteenth a federal holiday

New American stat marks the nation’s end of slavery

A screenshot of the First Peoples Cultural Councils First Peoples’ Map. (First Peoples Cultural Council)
Online resource blends B.C.-Alberta’s Indigenous languages, art and culture

Advisor says initiative supports the urgent need to preserve Indigenous languages

A plane is silhouetted as it takes off from Vancouver International Airport in Richmond, B.C., May 13, 2019. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Report calls for airlines to refund passengers for flights halted due to COVID-19

Conclusion: federal help should be on the condition airlines immediately refund Canadian travellers

Green party Leader Annamie Paul speaks during a news conference on Parliament Hill in Ottawa on Tuesday, June 15, 2021. Paul has survived another day of party strife after a planned ouster shifted course, leaving her with a tenuous grip on power ahead of a likely federal election this year. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Justin Tang
Green Leader Annamie Paul blasts ‘racist,’ ‘sexist’ party execs who sought ouster

Fallout has continued, with two of the federal council’s members resigning

Russian President Vladimir Putin, left, and U.S President Joe Biden shake hands during their meeting at the ‘Villa la Grange’ in Geneva, Switzerland in Geneva, Switzerland, Wednesday, June 16, 2021. (AP Photo/Alexander Zemlianichenko, Pool)
Biden says meeting with Putin not a ‘kumbaya moment’

But U.S. president asserted Russian leader is interested in improved relations, averting a Cold War

Most Read