Bruised ribs and balky knees – all part of marathon hockey game - The Buffalo News
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Bruised ribs and balky knees – all part of marathon hockey game

So many blisters dotted the feet and ankles of Geoff Peters that it looked as if he had a case of chicken pox.

Mac Hartman lay on a couch with a neoprene sleeve wrapped around his balky right knee, delivering a soothing tonic of ice and compression.

Bill Shaflucas hoisted himself onto a training table and showed off his recent collection of ailments. A deep ruby-purple welt, just above the elbow, marked the spot where he took a friendly cross-check on day three. His left ankle was swollen like a frankfurter on a grill, thanks to a high sprain. And on the big toe of his right foot, a blister the size of a quarter grew on top of the bunion that never really bothered him before.

"It doesn't hurt when you play a regular hockey game," he said.

But this was no regular hockey game. Shaflucas and 39 other players were trying to break a record for the world's longest continuous hockey game – sprained ankles, sleep deprivation, bloodied noses, aching muscles and burning blisters be damned.

Another four-hour skate on the ice at HarborCenter awaited Shaflucas. He arrived early at the training room for extra tape and padding to endure his 17th shift in nine days. Athletic trainer Jessica Raniero wrapped both feet and sent him on his way. His shift was scheduled to begin at 12:20 a.m. Sunday. Shaflucas planned on getting to the ice well before then to relieve his exhausted teammates.

Day 10 of the 11 Day Power Play at HarborCenter

With just two or three shifts left, players could sense the end in sight.

"It's starting to get emotional. Seeing some kids in the crowd you know are at Roswell," said Shaflucas, who took time off from running his company, Easton Entertainment, to play.

The game, dubbed the 11 Day Power Play, isn't merely a bid to break the current Canadian record for most consecutive hours of continuous hockey play and land a spot in the Guinness Book of World Records. The players helped raised more than $1 million to fund cancer research at Roswell Park Cancer Institute.

"The anticipation of getting out of here is kicking in," said Peters. "I said on July 4th, I'm going to take all of my hockey gear and burn it."

Kenny Corp chases after a loose puck during day 10 of the 11 Day Power Play at HarborCenter on Saturday, July 1, 2017.
(Harry Scull Jr./Buffalo News)

Most of the players are in their 40s or older, but even the younger players were feeling banged up.

Justin Kocent, a research coordinator at Roswell Park, was nursing bruised ribs and a nasty case of what hockey players call "lace bite," a painful inflammatory condition at the top of the foot and lower shin brought on by constant pressure from the laced-up tongue of the skate.

And yet Kocent, 31, had no doubt the finish line was near.

"I can't believe it's been over a week already. It's kind of a blur. In some ways it's felt like a blink, and in other ways it's felt like an eternity," he said. "I don't want to say we're home free because there's work to be done. But it's palpable."

Kocent looked no worse for wear on his third to last shift of the interminable game. At one point, he cruised gracefully toward the net and let rip a wrist shot that got past the goaltender's outstretched glove. The goal brought his white team to within 15 goals of the blue team, prompting a gaggle of Kocent supporters in a sparse crowd to erupt in cheers. The score was 1,492 to 1,477.

The game began at 9 p.m. June 22 and was scheduled to wrap up Monday morning around 8 a.m.

Nicholas Fattey displays his broken nose while Kenny Corp shows his stitches from during day 10 of the 11 Day Power Play at HarborCenter on Sunday, July 2, 2017. (Harry Scull Jr./Buffalo News)

Kenny Corp, who played professionally in Europe and in minor hockey leagues in the U.S, had no doubt the players would finish and possibly "go a little longer." He now works as a conductor for CSX, the rail-based freight transportation company.

Some players said they planned to take a break from hockey after achieving the record on Monday. But Corp predicted he would be back on the ice again within 48 hours. "I love the sport," he said.

Corp encountered cramps in his legs so severe on day one that he needed intravenous fluids to combat dehydration. Then, on a rush to the net Saturday, he took an accidental high stick to the forehead, right between the eyes. The gash was bandaged, so Corp could return to the ice as quickly as possible. When his shift was over, he received six stitches.

"At least I scored," Corp joked afterward. Every so often, he dabbed a tissue to soak up an occasional drop of blood that leaked from the stitched cut.

Corp sat in a player's lounge that looked like something out of the movie "Slap Shot." Aleve and athlete's foot powder were at one locker stall, a bottle of Jim Beam at another. Cellphone power cords snaked from the wall outlets across the floor.

Corp's teammate Andrew Case walked past and asked, "How's your face?"

"Good," said Corp. "I'm still ugly."

More than the bumps and bruises and rashes brought on by equipment that never quite dries out between shifts, Corp said the lack of a good night's sleep has been a huge challenge.

"I probably slept two hours today. I try to get four hours but it never happens," he said.

Constantly changing shift times have thrown sleep cycles into chaos. One of the requirements of the world record is that none of the players leave the arena, so several of the locker rooms were transformed into sleeping quarters.

Corp said he's sometimes so disoriented from the lack of sleep that he forgets recent conversations with teammates.

"When you get off the ice, you're not really sure what time it is," said Hartman, who works in marketing for a local accounting firm and who  played hockey at SUNY Buffalo State and Kenmore-West High School. "The worst shifts are the overnights, the ones that start at like one in the morning. It's like a ghost town in here. And it gets colder, because no one is in the building."

Andrew Tokasz sleeps while the ice is being resurfaced during day 10 of the 11 Day Power Play at HarborCenter on Sunday, July 2, 2017. (Harry Scull Jr./Buffalo News)

Players' spirits began soaring Saturday morning when the countdown clock inside the arena finally moved to one day, 23 hours left. But some guys admitted they struggled mightily a few days earlier.

Peters played on the Canadian National Team and for several years in the American Hockey League. A series of injuries forced him to retire from the rough and tumble of professional hockey years ago.

Taking a breather on the bench during one of the lonely overnight shifts, Peters found himself weeping for no apparent reason.

"I miss my family. I miss my wife. I miss my kids," he said.

Peters hadn't before been away from his 2-year-old son and 6-year-old daughter for more than a couple of days.

"Physically you know you're going to be in pain. Mentally you don't know how you're going to deal with it," he said.

The camaraderie of the players helped him power through those challenges, said Peters.

"You don't want to let your teammates down," he said. "We all want to finish. We all want to be a part of it."

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