It takes a certain type of athlete to play a full game of hockey. Strapping on pads, hoisting a stick and chasing a puck back and forth across the ice, all with the potential for getting your body checked into a solid wall, for three 20-minute periods, isn’t for the casual, out-of-shape, Empire State Plaza skater.
Now, imagine doing that for 252 straight hours.
Buffalo-based nonprofit organization, The 11 Day Power Play—co-founded by Amy Lesakowski and her husband, Mike, in 2016, eight years after she was diagnosed with breast cancer—has been hosting über-long hockey games in the Western New York city since 2017, breaking the world record for the world’s longest continuously played hockey game that first year, all in the name of fighting cancer. That initial record-breaking run featured a 40-man roster—or two teams of 20—playing one continuous game of hockey, four hours on, eight hours off, for 11 days straight at Buffalo’s HarborCenter. The teams, made up of 18 position players and 2 goalies, as well as a gaggle of referees, literally lived, ate and slept in the hockey arena, sleeping in makeshift cots lining their respective locker rooms and enduring a plethora of aches, pains, bruises, cuts and blisters. (Per the Guinness Book’s rules, if any man were to leave the rink at any time, the record would immediately be lost.) In the end, despite the hockey hardships and fatigue factor, the 40 men were awarded the record, and the organization was able to raise $1 million for cancer-fighting organizations in and around Buffalo, including the Roswell Park Comprehensive Cancer Center, where Amy had received her cancer treatment (she’s still cancer-free to this day).
To lessen the load in the years that followed, Power Play opened up the challenge to the greater Buffalo community, launching the “community shift” program, which offered some 2,300 locals the chance to play in single shifts over the standard 11-day period, dividing up the work considerably. The games ended up raising multiple millions more to fight cancer, but in the first of those newly formatted years, a Canadian team wrested the longest-game record away. The “community shift” program wasn’t really designed to re-break the record anyway, so the record wasn’t re-challenged in 2019, and then, of course, the pandemic hit. For the 2020 campaign, the nonprofit kept the community shifts intact and pivoted to a lengthy floor-hockey tournament in place of the ice-bound one, once again raising $1 million for cancer charities. (To date, $5.2 million has been raised for cancer charities in the area.)
That happened to be Saratoga Springs native Colin Healy’s rookie season with Power Play, with Healy seeing a single four-hour shift of the 252 total hours spent on the floor during last year’s game. He’d been a fan of Power Play’s ever since it launched and had even taken his kids to see a portion of that 40-man roster’s record-breaking run that first year. Healy isn’t some fly-by-night hockey player by any stretch of the imagination: He started out playing Saratoga Youth Hockey at the age of 5 or 6 and played right up until senior year of high school. Graduating from Saratoga Springs High School in 1998 and going on to attend the University at Buffalo, Healy settled in the Queen City, which has its own National Hockey League franchise in the Buffalo Sabres—and its fair share of Game of Thrones–style winters. It was the perfect place to be a hockey fan.
As to why Healy linked up with Power Play in the first place, though, it had very little to do with his love for hockey. “Cancer has been around me everywhere for my entire life,” says Healy. At the age of 5, around the time when he started out with the Saratoga Blue Knights, he lost his grandfather to cancer, followed by two aunts. Then his father was diagnosed with stage 4 cancer, and though doctors gave him only a short time to live, through aggressive treatment, he was able survive for another 15 years and had a chance to get to know his grandchildren (Healy and his wife have three children). Also affected by cancer was Healy’s mother, who got hit with two separate bouts, and his stepfather, who was stricken with advanced lung cancer (both are in remission). Then a third aunt succumbed to cancer.
In 2020, though, cancer struck again, and in the most heartbreaking of ways. “My wife’s younger sister was diagnosed with melanoma,” says Healy, “and we thought she was cancer free; she announced her remission in late July.” A little more than a month later, Healy’s sister-in-law woke up one day thinking feeling sick, went to the hospital and found out that her cancer had, in fact, metastasized. “Literally, this cancer was so aggressive that a 31-year-old, completely healthy [woman] passed away four weeks later,” says Healy. In his sister-in-law’s final days, Healy got a notification that Power Play was bringing back its OG event in 2021—the grueling, 40-man fight for the record—and a lightbulb went off. “As soon as she passed, this open application was there, and I just sat down at my computer and wrote an essay,” says Healy. “I let it rip about all the things I was thinking and going through, and how much it would mean to her huge family that had this unbelievable loss. This was not OK. It was the final straw; I needed to figure out something I could do.”
Out of the thousands of Buffalonians that applied for a spot on the 40-man roster, Healy was able to land one of them. And it turned out that it was that much more coveted than in previous iterations of the event, as 22 men would be returning from the initial record-breaking run and only 18 newbies would be “drafted” anew, including Healy. If all things go as planned—and obviously, there’s a big “if” involved, with COVID numbers spiking statewide and vaccinations for the general public still months away—the pair of teams will attempt to break the record at the Buffalo RiverWorks facility November 13–24. And, of course, there’s a catch: The arena is located partially outdoors, so players will potentially have to share RVs in the parking lot for resting/sleeping purposes. (Those details are still being worked out.) Until then, Healy will be fundraising for the event and has already raised more than $2,000 towards a $25,000 goal (you can donate to his cause here).