It was 15 years ago that Brent Saik and a group of Edmonton firefighters and police officers were sitting around his garage after spending 12 hours on his outdoor rink.
A team near Red Deer had been playing for 24 consecutive hours and the guys at Saiker’s Acres in Strathcona County thought they could do something similar to raise money for cancer research. They wanted to make good on a promise Saik had made to his father while he was undergoing treatment for colon cancer. Saik’s father, Terry, died in 1994.
“He knew he didn’t have long,” Saik said. “My dad actually asked me to do something to keep kids out of the Cross Cancer Institute.”
They needed more than 24 hours though, in order to beat the Guinness World record. They would need to play for more than three days. They decided on 80 hours.
“It was an interesting experiment is what it was,” Saik, the founder of the World’s Longest Hockey Game event east of Edmonton, told Global News.
While planning for the 2003 game, Saik was touched by cancer again. His wife, Susan, was diagnosed. She passed away in June 2003, just months after the players hit the ice.
“I had to bury my wife, then my aunt passed away a week later,” Saik said. “It’s tough. That’s why we do this.”
In fact, most of the players that come back year after year have similar stories of losing loved ones to cancer.
Curtis Sieben has played in all six of the World’s Longest Hockey Game attempts. He lost his dad eight years ago and just weeks before the 2018 game, his friend also died from cancer. He said the two of them are always in the back of his mind while he’s playing.
“It’s tough,” Sieben said. “They’re going way too young.”
Sieben has watched the game grow and evolve into what it is now. The teams are currently battling bitterly cold weather and a lack of sleep.
“You think about everyone battling cancer,” he said. “They’ve got it way harder than we do.”
Sieben reminisced Monday about what the first game in 2003 was like. He thought they were crazy for trying to break the record at 80 hours.
“There were some growing pains that game,” he said. “The first game we tried to stay up for three days. That didn’t work out very well after Day 1.”
They also ate, slept, showered and changed in a garage.
In 2005, the decision was made to triple the length of the game. It was during the NHL lockout. Saik heard a statistic that NHL players play an average of 240 hours of hockey a season.
“Our stand was, ‘We’re going to play 240 hours of hockey in 240 hours,'” he said. “‘If you guys aren’t going to play, we’re going to play.'”
It was a decision he now jokingly regrets.
“I wish we picked a smaller number because now we gotta keep beating it,” he laughed.
Watch below: Playing hockey around the clock would be tough on anyone, but couple that with freezing temperatures, injuries are bound to happen. Gord Steinke speaks to one of the volunteer nurses at the World’s Longest Hockey Game.
The number of hours played isn’t the only thing that’s changed. In each new edition of the event, more money is raised, there is more time and effort put into planning and there are more volunteers. In the first year, there was one person who did almost everything. Now there are more than 800 people who lend a hand.
In 2015, Saik built a facility attached to the ice rink that includes showers, a changing room for players and referees and an upper level for spectators.
Saik said when he got remarried, he and his new wife had a choice to make: build a house or build the new facility for the hockey game.
“We’re happy with that,” he smiled.
The goal in 2018 is to raise $2 million and when it comes to calling it quits, Saik said that won’t happen as long as the community keeps supporting the game.
“If our community enjoys us doing this, we’re going to keep doing this,” he said. “If you enjoy it, donate. That’s how you tell us.”
WATCH: World’s Longest Hockey Game founder Brent Saik and his wife Janelle Saik joined Mike Sobel on Global News Morning to talk about the 2018 edition of the 10-day-long game.
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