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Oilers doctor leading World's Longest Hockey Game

by Evan Sporer

The longest game in the history of the NHL lasted more than 176 minutes, and ended when the Detroit Red Wings' Mud Brunteau scored in the sixth overtime to beat the Montreal Canadiens in a Stanley Cup Playoff game March 24, 1936.

That's just a warm-up compared to what Dr. Brent Saik and his friends are doing.

On Feb. 6, Saik was one of 40 players to start the fifth World's Longest Hockey Game, an event that raises money for the Alberta Cancer Foundation. All proceeds go toward purchasing a piece of equipment for the Cross Cancer Institute in Edmonton.

"I had done numerous, numerous fund-raiser events for cancer research for children," Saik, the Edmonton Oilers' optometrist, told NHL.com after coming off the ice Friday from his first four-hour shift. "[My father] told me, 'Make sure that no kids ever go into this hospital.'"

Dr. Brent Saik, the Edmonton Oilers' optometrist, was one of 40 players to start the fifth World's Longest Hockey Game, an event that raises money for the Alberta Cancer Foundation. This year's game began Feb. 6 and will run through Feb. 16; it's slated to last for 250 hours. (Photo: Rob Hislop Photography)

Saik didn't grow up playing hockey; he was a baseball player. But after buying some land in Alberta and losing his father Terry to cancer, Saik made a promise to do whatever he could help fight the disease.

Out of that, the World's Longest Hockey Game was born.

Saik and his friends would play for hours in a backyard rink he had built. But after seeing on the news that the record for the world's longest hockey game had been set at 24 hours, he thought he and his friends could break it. Saik said the discussion then turned toward why they should play the game, and what purpose it would serve.

In 2003 Saik was part of a group that played an 82-hour game, which raised $80,000. This year's game began Feb. 6 and will run through Feb. 16; it's slated to last for 250 hours. The first four games Saik organized raised a combined total of more than $2 million.

The mechanics of the game are unique to achieving the collective goal. Shifts are four hours, the longest permitted by the Guinness Book of World Records. And part of Guinness' rules state that players cannot leave the site where the rink is, so Saik helped build a brand new facility, equipped with a locker room, training room, space for the players to relax (and sleep) when they're not on the ice, and of course, the rink itself.

"Physically it sounds and it feels impossible," said Jouni Nieminen, one of five players to skate in all five of Saik's games. "The first two or three days are usually pure hell. Somehow your body gets used to it, which I could never understand.

"It's incredible how goalies do it. It's terribly cold up here in Alberta. Some of the goalies, I know they have problems by day two or three; we have to carry them downstairs to sleep. By day 9, they're running up."

Saik said the temperature for puck drop this year was about minus-30 degrees Celsius (minus-22 Fahrenheit). And just like when the idea was conceived in his backyard, they still play on an outdoor rink, Saiker's Acres in Sherwood Park, Alberta.

"You want to make the puck do the work," said Nieminen. "Other than that, you kind of get to learn how the guys you were with most of the time, how they play. Who are the skaters, who are the shooters and who are the passers."

One player who sticks out a bit this time around is Janne Niinimaa, who spent six of his 10 NHL seasons playing with the Edmonton Oilers.

"He was so excited to be able to come back here and be able to do this," Saik said. "He did a little speech [Thursday] that was pretty cool. He just said, 'If you don't mind me talking … I was an NHL hockey player, and this is going to be one of the best games I've ever played in.'"

Saik and Niemenen both said every player at the event had a story and a reason for participating in the game. After organizing the first event, Saik's wife Susan was diagnosed with cancer, which eventually led to her death. The second game, played in 2005, was dedicated to her.

"When people come to play here it's because they're playing for loved ones," Saik said. "When you're down, you're in the blue, every single player in every single game has always cried at some point, at least once; usually 10 times.

"It's a beautiful, beautiful room where people can tell their stories. And you just humble yourself, and realize how important life is, and what's important."

To learn more about the World Longest Hockey Game, or to donate, visit http://albertacancer.ca/worldslongesthockeygame2015.

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