September 05, 2011
Above: Karen Johns poses for a photo between shifts of the longest hockey game ever played.
BURNABY, B.C. -- Buoyed by a breakout, 266-goal performance from forward Bree Healey, Team White defeated Team Red by a final score of 1372-978 in the longest hockey game ever played -- pending confirmation from Guinness World Records -- at Burnaby Eight Rinks on Monday.
Granted, Healey's stats and the final score are relatively unimportant. The only numbers that mattered were the 242 hours (10 days) of continuous hockey it took to break the current Guinness World Record, and the dollar amount raised for cystic fibrosis research in doing so. By the time the final horn sounded -- 65 minutes later than the previous record, in homage to the late Eva Markvoort and her documentary, 65 Roses -- the Longest Game for Cystic Fibrosis had raised over $125,000.
The players were so exhausted they would rejoice when they were whistled for a penalty, because it meant they could sit down for three extra minutes. But there wasn't a single Alexei Kovalev amongst them; these women played hard, right to the end. I was blown away when one of them tried to beat an icing call with 40 minutes to go. Granted, she may have been energized by the world record she was about to break, but still, holy crap.
It was an incredible accomplishment, especially considering the toll it took on their bodies.
The women had lived at the arena for ten days, alternating between four-hour shifts of continuous play (with 10-minute intermissions) and 4-hour breaks in a makeshift RV park behind the arena, in beautiful monstrosities like this:
I asked Team White's Trish Tait how much sleep the ladies had actually been getting per day. She told me she'd lost all track of days and nights sometime last week.
When 10 a.m. arrived and the record had been broken, a crowd of spectators boisterously celebrated their accomplishment. Spectators like the guy who called himself Captain Canada (below right), an alter ego he had only donned once before, during the Vancouver Olympic relay in 2010:
As the father of a son suffering from cystic fibrosis, he felt the occasion merited an encore appearance.
The sacrifice of these women was remarkable. Team Red's Karen Johns, for instance, is the teacher of a grade 6/7 class at Pitt River Middle School in Port Coquitlam, B.C. Bear in mind that today is Labour Day. School starts tomorrow, and she'll be there.
"They're only there for attendance," she shrugged.
Still, considering the state of these women's bodies, it's a wonder she thinks she'll be able to get out of bed tomorrow, let alone go to work. To dull the pain of the aggravated skin underneath their shin pads, the women were wrapping their legs with cellophane and cut-up chunks of yoga mat.
An hour after the game, cheers erupted from the dressing room when one of the women triumphantly shouted, "I got my skates off!"
Their feet were a nightmare to look at, especially Tamaki Kano, who was being carried from place to place by the time the final horn sounded. Just before the record was to be broken, she emerge from a dressing room behind me, walking gingerly on her heels, draped over one of the volunteers.
After a knee injury had forced her to make a trip to the hospital, her feet had swollen and contorted into hardly unusable clumps of flesh (right). Still, she'd returned to the arena and continued to play in the game, even if she had to be dragged to the bench.
She talked about her condition after the game:
Maintaining record eligibility and seeing this undertaking through to the end was of utmost importance to all 40 players involved. Karen de Silva, for instance, had suffered a concussion last Saturday but, in order to maintain eligibility, remained at the arena while sitting out the recommended, week-long recovery period.
She returned to action two days ago.
Her absence forced her Team Red unit to play much of this week without a sub, but they didn't use her injury as an excuse for the 400-goal loss. Just as the Vancouver Canucks didn't blame Mikael Samuelsson's(notes) injury for losing Game 3 of the Stanley Cup Final by a similar deficit.
New Westminster's Danielle Dube, a goaltender for Canada's gold medal-winning women's team from the 1997 World Championships, played through injury as well. Two days before the game began, she had undergone surgery and had pins inserted into a damaged middle finger. Here she is, at right, giving me the Andrew Ference treatment.
It was too painful for her to use the goaltender's mitt, so she played the entire game as a skater. Even then, she had to cut a section out of her hockey glove so she could put it on. And while we're talking ruined equipment, her skates had come apart too. The right one was held together by duct tape.
To make up for Dube's injury, Team Red's skaters took shifts in net throughout the 10-day game, many of whom had no experience at the position. This may have also contributed to the 400-goal loss, although even teams with a Vezina nominee minding the pipes occasionally get peppered for 400 or goals so over a week and a half, amirite?
Speaking of goalies, I spoke with goaltender Terri Breker, whose knees (above right) were swollen up like grapefruits by the time the game was over. Here she is, detailing her injury history:
In the end, Trish Tait put it best: What's pain for 10 days compared to a lifetime of pain with cystic fibrosis?
If this game can contribute to a cure, it was more than worth it.