August 31, 2011
The red team skated into the offensive zone methodically, as one player fired a puck that was saved by the sliding goaltender in a white jerrsey. A horn blared to signal a break in the action for ice resurfacing.
The teams retreated to their benches with weary exhaustion — understandable, given that it was 4:32 a.m. on Wednesday morning, and their game had lasted 116 hours to that point.
Only 127 hours to go.
"Around Day 3, people started to slow down a bit," said Beth Snow, 34. "But we're still playing hard. I thought we'd be doing a lot more floating."
On Aug. 26 at the Burnaby 8 Rinks in British Columbia, 40 women split up into two teams and began competing in what they hope will be the longest continuous hockey game ever played — one that's streaming live on the Internet 24 hours a day.
The current record was set in Edmonton during 10 days back in February, a charity effort that raised money for the city's Cross Cancer Institute. The final whistle in Burnaby will sound on Sept. 5; should their efforts be validated by Guinness World Records, the players will have beaten that Edmonton record by 65 minutes.
To accomplish their goals, these women are literally living at the rink for 243 hours. Normal routines have been shattered. Bodies are blistered and aching. And if they don't follow Guinness's rules to the letter, they won't set a world record.
Yet beyond pride and competitive fire, there's something else driving them: The desire to raise awareness and money to fight Cystic Fibrosis, and honor the memory of those who lost their battle with it.
Val Skelly, 43, began planning the "Longest Game for CF" in Nov. 2009 having promised a Lucia, a longtime friend who died of complications for the disease, that she would do something spectacular to bring attention to Cystic Fibrosis, an inherited disease of the mucus glands that affects many body systems.
A hockey player herself, Skelly knew an all-female marathon game that aimed for a world record would certainly qualify as spectacular. (Snow admitted to a little Girl Power pride in trying to break the record in a women's hockey game.)
A few months later [Skelly] approached Cystic Fibrosis Canada about her idea and to find a spokesperson who could put a face to their purpose. They hooked her up with Bill Markvoort, whose daughter Eva had just lost her battle with CF.
Eva, a former Miss New Westminster ambassador, had chronicled her struggle to stay alive in an online journal called 65 Red Roses. Her story had been documented in a film of the same name. Her greatest wish before she died was to leave a legacy of awareness about the disease and hope for its sufferers.
Skelly's game could be a part of that legacy. Markvoort gave his blessing to have Eva and her trademark fiery red hair become the game's face and Skelly used Eva's blog to construct a power point presentation telling the story of CF to help recruit players, volunteers and sponsors.
The players range from 17 to 44 years old, the majority living in Metro Vancouver. Snow found out about the game at the rink's pro shop, checked the website for the Longest Game for CF and thought it was "the most awesome thing I've ever heard."
Soon after the game began, reality started to set in for Snow and her teammates: It was as arduous as it was awesome.
"Despite my best efforts at trying to take it 'one shift at a time,' all I could think of was the fact that I was only going to have a four-hour break after the session and it really sucked the life out of me," wrote Snow on her blog Not To Be Trusted With Knives.
"I didn't score a single goal in the last four hours — I'm pretty much just a body on the ice who once in a while touches the puck at this point. I'm too tired to chase any pucks. I was on the verge of tears at least a dozen times in the four hours and I don't even know why."
That was on Day 3.
There are no periods in the game; it's just one long competition between two teams of five skaters, one goalie and a substitute on the bench. Their "sessions" run four hours, followed by an eight- or four-hour break for nourishment, medical attention and sleep while another shift takes the ice.
Injuries are going to happen, and a significant one has already happened: One player on the red team had to leave due to a concussion. When another player needed time off due to swollen feet, the red team was down to 18 players with no help on the way.
The 20-woman rosters set before the game began can't be altered. If anyone gets hurt, there's no one coming up from the local rec team to replace her, nor can the players switch sides to fill out the rosters.
This is because the Guinness World Records certification process is a rigid business. Among the provisions in the record-setting effort, according to Snow:
No player is allowed to leave the facility. Players have to either stay in the rink or in a camper in a fenced-in area of the grounds outside.
Zamboni time is 10 minutes. For every hour the teams play, there's 10 minutes to clean and resurface the ice; hence, there's 10 minutes to eat, relax and clear their heads. "If any of our breaks are 10 minutes and 1 second, we won't have the record," said Snow. "They're pretty strict about it, apparently."
Injury time. If there's a stoppage in play due to an injury, that time is tacked on at the end. So the time taken for the player with a concussion must be made up. "This poor girl was barely conscious, and they're dragging her off the ice," said Snow.
Witnesses. Two referees must be on the ice at all times, signing a book during breaks to validate that all rules were followed. The live stream on the game's website is also important, as that's the video Guinness World Records will use for certification, re-watching the entire game.
The camera is being maintained by a volunteer. Everyone from training staff to game officials to people dropping by with food are donating their time as a support team for the players.
"The scale of this event is crazy big," said Snow.
But the players say they still need help. Medical supplies are in short order; they're looking for donations of Second Skin and Moleskin padding. (Directions and contact info for the rink are here.)
Some players are going MacGyver on this game; for example, slicing up yoga mats for padding and using plastic wrap to combat "lace bite."
As much as they need support, Snow said the biggest need remains on the donation front. There are opportunities to donate to support the game, the teams or individual players. The goal is to reach $400,000; the game has currently raised over $100,000.
Snow said there's room for creativity. For example, a friend of hers was willing to donate $1 for every goal she scored. So, naturally, the opposing team allowed her to light the lamp like vintage Gretzky for the night, as she tallied 14 of her 25 goals in one session.
By 4 a.m. local time on Wednesday morning, the White team had a 609-427 lead over the Red team. (Hope you took the "over" in the Vegas sportsbook.)
But in the end, the score doesn't matter. The cause does. That's what's keeping over three dozen women skating through pain and exhaustion in the wee hours of the morning in Burnaby. Signs like this behind the players' bench, written by a child with CF, are all the reminder they need: