(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

Prince Rupert’s Bobby Brown celebrated his 95th birthday milestone on March 5 with family across the country in an online celebration. (Photo: supplied by Jodi Brown)
Prince Rupert man celebrates 95th birthday milestone online

Five generations come together COVID-19 style in Prince Rupert to say “Happy Birthday”

Main door at Cranes Crossing, Prince Rupert’s homeless shelter, on March 5. Northern Health issued a public notice of potential exposure occurring at the shelter between Feb. 22 and 24. (Photo: K-J Millar/The Northern View)
COVID-19 Public Exposure Notice issued for Prince Rupert’s homeless shelter

Northern Health said possible exposure between Feb. 22 and 24

Air Canada cancelled flights to Prince Regional Airport on Jan. 23, 2021 due to loss of ridership during COVID-19. An Air Canada Rouge takes off from Montreal in March 20, 2020. (THE CANADIAN PRESS/Graham Hughes)
BC Liberals call for immediate action and support for B.C. airports

Prince Rupert Regional Airport and others across the province struggle with COVID-19 effects

Paul Williams rector of St. Andrews Cathedral in Prince Rupert sits in front of the 95-year-old pipe organ on March 5. The church has put out a community call for volunteers to play the instrument to keep it fresh and operational. (Photo: K-J Millar/The Northern View)
St. Andrews Cathedral pipe organ needs players to make it sing

Prince Rupert volunteers who want to practice their playing skills are welcome

Alex Campbell, Velna Nelson, Beatrice Robinson and Ellen Mason take part in the Sm’algyax Word App and website launched by School District 52 on March 1. (Photo: Supplied by Roberta Edzera)
Prince Rupert SD 52 launches new Sm’algyax word app and website

Database for new language resources stems back more than 30 years

The James C Richardson Pipe Band marches in a Remembrance Day parade on Nov. 11, 2019 in Chilliwack. Wednesday, March 10 is International Bagpipe Day. (Jenna Hauck/ Chilliwack Progress file)
Unofficial holidays: Here’s what people are celebrating for the week of March 7 to 13

International Bagpipe Day, Wash Your Nose Day and Kidney Day are all coming up this week

Victoria man Brett Andersen is asking for people’s help to secure him one of eight free tickets to the moon. (Screenshot/@brettandersen Instagram)
Victoria man wants your help securing a free ticket to the moon

Japanese billionaire offering eight people a trip to the moon

The Conservation Officers Service is warning aquarium users after invasive and potentially destructive mussels were found in moss balls from a pet store. (BC Conservation Officers Service/Facebook)
Aquarium users in B.C. warned after invasive mussels found at pet store

Conservation officers were told the mussels were found in a moss ball from a Terrace pet store.

Hockey hall-of-fame legend Wayne Gretzky, right, watches the casket of his father, Walter Gretzky, as it is carried from the church during a funeral service in Brantford, Ont., Saturday, March 6, 2021. HE CANADIAN PRESS/Nathan Denette
Walter Gretzky remembered as a man with a ‘heart of gold’ at funeral

The famous hockey father died Thursday at age 82 after battling Parkinson’s disease

Donald Alan Sweet was once an all star CFL kicker who played for the Montreal Alouettes and Montreal Concordes over a 13-year career. Photo courtesy of Mission RCMP.
Ex-B.C. teacher who was CFL kicker charged with assault, sexual crimes against former students

Donald Sweet taught in Mission School District for 10 years, investigators seek further witnesses

During a press event on March 6, Const. Alex Berube, media relations officer for the West Shore RCMP, addressed a deadly shooting that occurred in Metchosin the night before. (Devon Bidal/News Staff)
VIDEO: One man shot dead on Vancouver Island in ‘targeted incident’

Highway 14 reopens following multi-hour closure for investigation

Personal protective equipment is seen in the COVID-19 intensive care unit at St. Paul’s hospital in downtown Vancouver. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
$16.9 million invested to improve worker safety, strengthen B.C.’s food supply chain

Money to be used for social distancing, personal protective equipment, cleaning, and air circulation

More than ever before, as pandemic conditions persist, the threat of data breaches and cyberattacks continues to grow, according to SFU professor Michael Parent. (Pixabay photo)
SFU expert unveils 5 ways the COVID-19 pandemic has forever changed cybersecurity

Recognizing these changes is the first in a series of steps to mitigate them once the pandemic ends, and before the next: Michael Parent

Most Read