Frost-bitten toes and cracked pucks may not have been what a group of Canadians initially signed on for, but $1.8 million and counting later, they are sure glad they did.
Every three years, a group of people in Alberta get together to break hockey records during the World's Longest Hockey Game in the name of fighting cancer. 2021 may have brought the players challenges thanks to a world-wide pandemic and temperatures reaching as low as -54 degrees, but from the moment the puck first hit the ice, it was game on.
"We weren't sure that this game was even going to be approved until the final puck drop," Andrew Buchanan says.
Listen to more of Buchanan's story
This is Buchanan's first year on the team but has become a spokesperson along the way. For the firefighter/paramedic, cancer is a part of his everyday life. He says there are 16 cancers that are common among firefighters with his circle of friends being no exception.
"I lost a really good friend a few years ago to pancreatic cancer that was deemed from firefighting," Buchanan says, dedicating to those. "I work as a paramedic so I see the struggles that my patients who struggle with cancer, especially with pediatric cancer and it just breaks my heart."
Raising funds for a new cancer drug, 40 hockey players spent 12-16 hour shifts on the ice playing, breaking only for naps.
"Some guys could not even physically get their skates on or off anymore, so guys started sleeping in their skates."
Hoping to raise $1.5 million, the group has surpassed their initial target, now at $1.8 million and climbing. Buchanan thinks they can crack $2 million by the end of the month.
Buchanan has by far the largest personal fundraising goal of the players, hoping to reach $50,000, something he has not done yet.
While the two have raised a lot of money for cancer research, the challenges around the event were not all fun and games. Typically, the o event would have more players and a lot of volunteers but this year, that was not possible.
"Well before we even put our skates on, the players had to do a COVID on January 28 and all test negative, and then we had to go back to our home and isolate for five days away from friends and family, and then we had to show up where the arena is on February 2."
When they arrived, the players moved into trailers, isolating themselves alone for three days and testing three more times for COVID-19.
Once going through this process, if a player needed to drop out of the game they could not return.
At this time, temperatures during the game reached dangerous lows.
"At one point, we were the coldest place on earth, and what's a group of 40 Canadians doing? Playing hockey."
It was so cold that broken pucks and sticks were common, and trailers could not warm up.
As a first responder, Buchanan was concerned about the health of the players.
"I was sticking guys up, gluing lips together, that sort of stuff just to keep guys playing... just your common hockey injuries that we had to treat on-site."
Buchanan says players demonstrated "warrior strength" during the cold.
Now that everyone has returned home, Buchanan says people's feet are a colourful display after getting nipped by the frost and experiencing other foot-related injuries.
"Some guys have feet that look straight out of a war movie right now. They definitely froze their toes and have all sorts of colours going on their feet right now"
He says it will take six to seven months for their feet to recover.
Despite facing extreme challenges, Buchanan says they were motivated by the support they saw on the ice. While spectators were not in the picture, people would drive past at all hours of the day, honking and waving.
"With what the world has gone through over the last year, they were looking for something really positive to focus on and kinda re-energize society. People just fell in love with the story and the cause and the backing was incredible."
For those who were keeping score, 2,649 to 2,528 was the end total of the 252 hours of gameplay. The winner? Team Hope.