Dr. Brent Saik and the World’s Longest Hockey Game have been breaking records and saving lives for years, and they’re back at it again right now with the seventh edition of the WLHG at his Sherwood Park acreage. With a brutal cold snap settling in on the Edmonton area, establishing a new record of 252 hours between now and February 14 isn’t going to be easy.
Then again, this game never is. That hasn’t stopped all of the people who’ve stepped on the ice since the first game in 2003 from raising $5.47 million for the Cross Cancer Institute. Like you and I, each and every one of the players out on the rink and huddling in trailers now has been touched one way or another by cancer. They are all playing for somebody.
In Saik’s case, colon cancer took his dad Terry in back 1994 and he lost his wife Susan to a brain tumor in 2003. For former Edmonton Oiler Kyle Brodziak, who is playing in his first game, taking part is about playing for his father. In years past, people visiting the rink and the dressing room – we cannot do that this year because of COVID-19 restrictions – could see pictures of loved ones lost and reminders everywhere about why this game matters so much.
Sadly, we can all relate to that. I lost my mom to cancer when she was only 48. I lost my dad to brain cancer five years ago and my brother-in-law Arman in July of 2011 at age 51, just weeks after my family flew to the Philippines to see him one last time. Friends and media people like Jason Gregor, Kevin Karius and Dustin Nielson have played in the WLHG. They have their stories too. As do you. That’s why the game must go on – COVID-19 and brutal weather be damned.
No matter what the weather, what the circumstances, those who face the bitter cold and lace up their skates hour after hour and day after day, fighting fatigue and frostbite, will tell you the game must go on no matter how weary the players get. Saik has been nothing short of relentless in his fundraising efforts in pursuit of treatments and cures for cancer.
Saik talked about the challenges of playing 10 straight days and facing the elements in an item I wrote in 2011. What he said then lends context to his approach, to what drives him. “How hard? That’s where I get emotional, I guess,” Saik said. “People ask me that all the time. It’s not actually that hard, which is the answer.
“It’s battling cancer, which is actually a lot harder, so that’s what we always revert back to. This is nothing. If you were staring at a death sentence of six months and you have to wake up every morning, that’s tough.”
Asked about facing a chilling forecast as daunting as the one that greeted players in 2008, plus COVID to boot, Saik talked to Post Media columnist Terry Jones this week. “Actually, it’s perfect,” Saik said. “Our record was minus-42 C — minus 51 C with the wind chill factor — for our first shift in 2008. What we hate is when it’s warm and when it’s snowing. It’s hard to skate on soft ice or when it’s snowing.”
If that’s not dogged positivity in the face of taking on weather that will be nothing short of punishing, I don’t know what is. That’s Saik. That’s this whole crew.
BRING IT ON
Saik has played in every single WLHG, as have friends Curtis Sieben and Darcy Homeniuk. They are among just 10 returnees from the last game in 2018. The rest of the 2021 roster is made up largely of new participants, all of them with their own stories to tell and reasons to play, like Brodziak and fellow former NHLer Zenith Komarniski.
This year’s game is different because fans will not be allowed to gather and cheer on the players as they have in years past due to COVID restrictions. People are, however, encouraged to drive out to Saiker’s Acres, which is located at 52269 Range Rd. 220, just east of Sherwood Park, and drive past the rink and lend support that way between now and February 14. The players will see you. The players will hear you.
As far as donations go, those wanting to support the $1.5 million fundraising goal of the WLHG this year can donate through the website here. As an added boost to the effort during the particularly difficult time, the Edmonton Football Team will be donating half the proceeds from a 50/50 draw on February 14. Details here.
This is a game we can all get behind.