This has been quite a week for Roswell Park Cancer Institute. On Friday, June 22 at 9 p.m. when The 11-Day Power Play, the world’s longest hockey game, dropped the puck for the 40 players of non-stop hockey for 264 straight hours, its goal of raising $1 million for cancer research at Roswell had already been achieved.
Less than 24 hours later, more than 7,000 bicyclists, riding routes throughout Western New York and Southern Ontario, raised $4.6 million for cancer research in the annual Ride for Cancer for Roswell Park.
Both events deserve a tremendous amount of credit for what each participant has done in raising funds for a much needed cause. I have ridden in The Ride for Roswell in the past but I could never attempt to do what these 40 men who love hockey are doing. They are driven by the mantra, “It’s Time To Beat Cancer.”
Think about this. Forty men, average age mid-40’s, who have been training for nearly a year to compete in this grueling, extremely important fund raising event, now must take 11 straight days off from work and away from their families and move into HarborCenter as they attempt to set a new Guinness Book of World Records for the longest consecutively played hockey game.
Guinness scouts can stop in anytime to watch the action and make sure they are following the stringent rules. The entire 11 day hockey game is being videotaped for the Guinness judges and it is streaming live on its website, www.11daypowerplay.com.
The event is the brainchild of Mike and Amy Lesakowski, the founders and co-chairs. Amy is a breast cancer survivor and in May, 2016, her husband Mike’s mom, Evelyn, died after a three-year battle with brain and lung cancer. Mike is playing in the Challenge.
Mike decided to do the challenge after his mom died. He met with Nik Fattey, Vice President and Director of Hockey at HarborCenter, to review the arena schedule for an 11-day window of open ice time. Once he secured the dates, he discussed it with Amy and together, they went to Roswell with this idea of breaking a world record while raising $1 million dollars for cutting-edge cancer research. Roswell loved the idea and soon Mike and Amy were discussing the event with Dr. Boris W. Kuvshinoff, Jr., MD, the Chief Medical Officer at Roswell.
“Dr. Kuvshinoff told us our donation will be seed money for cancer research at Roswell, meaning they can leverage our donations for larger grants which could ultimately reach $13 million,” an extremely happy Amy explains while watching Mike and his team play on the first Saturday of the Challenge. “Essentially, anyone who donates $100, it has the very good potential to become $1,300.”
It was busy on Saturday afternoon when Amy looked around and realized what so many people have done to make this challenge a reality for cancer research in our backyard at Roswell Park Cancer Institute.
“It is just incredible. I just cannot believe we are here,” she says while holding back the tears. “This is truly an example of Buffalo coming together for the common goal of supporting cancer research at Roswell Park.
“There really are no words to describe this. I cannot even wrap my head around all of it. It has far exceeded what Mike and I had hoped for,” she adds.
This is the first attempt at the world record in the United States. It is currently held by a group in Alberta, Canada, which has attempted this five times. It truly is not an easy journey by any means and the pain, fatigue and anxiety is bound to build each day as we enter the final seven day countdown.
The 40 players were split into two teams—Team Key Bank and Team Life Storage. Each player had to raise a minimum $10,000 each and each is sponsored by a local company.
Team Key Bank—Nicholas Fattey, F, Buffalo Sabres; Mac Hartman, FreedMaxick; Jeffrey Haynes, F, Lenox Grill; Corey Crane, D, Selective; Peter Merlo, F, Hodgson Russ;Bill Shaflucas, F, KTC; Justin Kocent, F, Salmon Orthodonics; David Pyc, F, Benchmark; Mike Sullivan, G; Andre Tokasz, D, Phillips Lytle, LLP; David Hage, F, Iovate; David Hage, F, Iovate; Justen Ehrig, D, Joe Basil Chevriet; Tom Fogertgy, D, Northtown Toyota; Mike Marino, G, Galboni; Matthew Balling, Williamsville Rotary Club; Larry Ralph, F, RALPH; Mike Spino, F, SolMAC; John “Condren,Rupp Baase Pfalzgraf Cunningham; John Bruno, F, Bond Schoenecki & King; Kenny Corp, F, Gabe’s Collision; Andrew Peters, GM, Zoladz.
Team Life Storage—Ryan Martin, G, Frey Electric Co.; Mark Lenard, F, 84 Lumber; Christopher Evanco, D, Middle Oak; Mike Lesakowski, D, Shawn P. Connolly, CFP; Dan Magee, D, YourLife Care Management; Mike Lawley, F, Costanzo’s; Craig Curtin, F, HUNT Real Estate; Geoff Peters, F, Buffalo Sabres Alumni Assn.; Chris Boron, F, Benchmark; Todd Anderson, F, Earthwatch; David Kaplan, F, Brown Chiari; Dan Downing, F, Towne Automotive; Chris Aquiline, F, Doran & Murphy; Les Kuntar, G, Adpro Sports; David Costantini, F, PCI; David Travers, D, Darien Lake; Allan Davis, D, Window World; Andrew Case, Independent Health; Steve Roder, D, Lilly; Dave Jickster, F, Russell’s Steaks Chops & More; Matthew Colpoys, GM, Delaware North.
One line of five skaters, a goalie and one substitute are on the ice for four 1 hour periods with a running clock and a 10 minute intermission at the end of each period with the ice flooded after two periods. At the end of 4 hours, those players get out of their uniforms and retreat to a special locker room area that has their own personal sleeping area. Through the 11 days players cannot leave the arena. There is a special dining area and a “lounge” has been created in the parking ramp for them to enjoy some sunshine or fresh air.
To ensure each player fully realized the end result of their heroic efforts, Dr. Kuvshinoff met with the group about a month ago to explain the importance of cancer research and exactly how these dollars would be used. The players were then given a detailed tour of the sprawling cancer institute on the Buffalo Niagara Medical Campus.
“There are a lot of fund raisers out there but people do not know exactly how the dollars are used,” Amy says. “We know that every penny donated to us will go into cancer research funding as seed money to help them generate more funds. That is exciting to know we may be on the cutting edge of something great with cancer research. That is why we all believe it is time to beat cancer.”
I have known Dave Jickster, 97 Rock’s Director of Promotions for nearly 20 years. He is a regular on the morning drive show with Bull, Rob and Chris and he manages remotes throughout Western New York, including his pre-game tailgate party before each Buffalo Bills’ home game. He is also a huge Bruce Springsteen fan and he adores his cat “Crazy Janey.”
During my career in journalism, professional sports and non profit fund raising and publicity generation, I can easily say Jickster is my all-time favorite media celebrity because of his genuiness, his sincere desire to help others and his quiet way of always looking for ways to help the underdog.
While none of the 40 hockey players can every say they have done anything like this before, Jickster is probably the closest one to say he has. For the past 10 Novembers, despite the cold weather, rain, wind and sometimes snow, he has called the inside of a 38-foot tractor trailer home for one week as he collects thousands of turkeys and cash for 97 Rock’s “Rock Out Hunger.” Jickster loves the program because he knows the frozen turkeys arrive at food pantries throughout WNY in time for families to enjoy a Thanksgiving dinner. He knows without Rock Out Hunger some families would not have a turkey dinner on that special holiday. That bothers him so much that he never complains about the poor sleeping conditions; the anxiety when his heaters shut down during the middle of the night or the wind causes all kinds of crazy noises inside the trailer.
When I asked him to compare the two philanthropic efforts, he responds, “Rock Out Hunger is a walk in the park compared to this. Don’t get me wrong collecting turkeys and cash is very important and it helps a lot of families in need and I love doing it but playing hockey 24/7 for 11 straight days is absolutely amazing.
For Jickster, agreeing to play was easy because “we all know someone who has suffered from or died from cancer and I love to play hockey.”
Although he did not get specific, you have to know one of his motivators for “It’s time to beat cancer” is the time he spent with his close friends, Hall of Fame former Bills quarterback Jim Kelly and his wife Jill during his battle with this dreaded disease.
Jickster, who had scored 20 goals already, says the biggest challenge is being “tired” because of the different times you must sleep and where you are sleeping. He also said by hitting the $1 million goal when the challenge started puts added pressure on each player to finish the 11 days and set the world record.
“We will do it,” he says with confidence. “I am extremely impressed with how well organized this entire event is. To organize an event that could enter the Guinness Book of World Records, is no easy task; to find the right 40 guys to play together for 11 straight days and then to execute this each day is amazing. It is almost unthinkable.
“I take my hat off to Mike and Amy and thank them,” he adds before heading into the player’s only locker room area to catch a few more hours of sleep.
Allan Davis, the Vice President of Operations at WGR Sports Radio, will turn 62 in July and he is the oldest player on the ice. A hockey player since his youth, he loves the game and he loves the cause of the Challenge.
“This 11 Day Challenge is very challenging, but extremely rewarding to see how our hockey playing is generating so much interest in cancer research at Roswell Park,” he says. “The challenge, though, is that this is 11 days of being on skates and playing four hour shifts. There is a lot of pain in our feet, fatigue because of the changes in our sleeping habits and a lot of tightness in our muscles.”
To that end, the Challenge is fortunate to have teams of trainers, physical therapists, massage experts and a medical team on site 24/7 to help ease the player’s pain.
Now that summer vacation has started I encourage everyone to bring their kids to HarborCenter, the house that Terry and Kim Pegula built, park in the ramp and take the elevator to the sixth floor and sit in the stands, watch and cheer these players to a world record. Bring them some homemade treats or have the kids create some unique signs to hold.
They will also be able to several members of the Sabres’ alumni who are a strong supporter of this effort. Former Sabre Andrew Peters, a host on the radio/TV morning show, The Enforcers, is the GM of Team Key Bank and his brother, Geoff is a player on the opposition.
The organizers have also scheduled live entertainment during the event and the schedule is on the website. On Wednesday at 8 p.m. Dave Schulz and CO Jones will perform with presale tickets (tickets.com) $20 and $25 at the door. The closing ceremonies will be held on July 3 at 8 a.m.
Lead image: Photo by Bill Wippert—Ceremonial puck drop with 11 Day Challenge Ambassador and Roswell Park patient Emmett Jakubowski