Finger-stickin' good

TERRY JONES -- Edmonton Sun

, Last Updated: 8:21 AM ET

The gloves came off and they gave the hockey world "The Finger."

It was the photo-op of the year -- 40 hockey players, who had just played an entire NHL season in the world's longest hockey game, posed for a team picture, took off their hockey gloves and gave the world white-taped middle fingers.

OK. Actually they were giving "The Finger" to Dr. Brent Saik, the organizer of the event. Saik had to play all week with a taped cast on his middle finger, having lost the tip of it while working on the Zamboni before the 240-hour hockey game began.

From that point of view it was a friendly finger. But it had a double meaning for a whole lot of them who had watched the NHL cancel a season, attempt to un-cancel it, and then cancel it again while their game went on and on and on and on and on and on ...

And it didn't go on for greed or ego. The inspiration wasn't to get your name in the paper, but to raise what is hoped will be $200,000 for research and equipment for the Cross Cancer Institute and the 72 kids currently on their roster. The players had nicknames on the back of their sweaters, not their own names.

One of them was Kevin Karius, a Global TV sportscaster who avoided a week of NHL rollercoaster reporting by playing.

"It was a privilege to play and there are 720 hockey players I can think of who should look at it and think about something like this -- the game, the way of life and it being part of who we are," he said.

CAN'T PUT THEIR SKATES ON

"I have to deal with the NHL players to make my living, but when I see guys who, after six days, can't even put their skates on their feet -- feet which have become the size of footballs -- but need somebody else to lace them up to get out there and do it because they care ... They care not only about raising money for cancer, they care for the game."

I spent a lot of time around the first longest game, the one which established the record at 80 hours two years ago, and to be honest, I didn't think they could rewrite the story or recapture the emotions of a city and a nation. But they did.

The first one happened on the original Saiker's Acres and was more than your basic Guinness World Records story. Saik's wife Susan was still alive, diagnosed with terminal cancer.

This one, maybe because it went on for 10 days and happened in the defining week of the lockout, became a national story, too.

"I wasn't sure it was possible, but I think it had even a bigger impact on people than it did the first time," said Jouni Nieminen, a freelance hockey writer for Finland publications out of here, who was also one of the 23 players who re-upped for the game.

"I can't tell you how many times I had tears running down my face out of the emotion involved in what we were doing," said Kulvir Dhaliwal, a Longer Gamer who hadn't skated until six years ago.

Saik, holding his daughter Angelica Hope, born six months before the last game, was emotional as he spoke to the crowd later.

It was a new Saiker's Acres, a completely rebuilt rink, and in the end, again, it had become a national story.

Yet, while there were satellite dishes from every network outlet on site as the clock ticked down and the game ended, it still remained real.

Cars were lined up for many city blocks in four different directions at the intersection of Range Road 520 and 224, and the snowbanks were lined with people around the rink giving the players a standing ovation as the final seconds wound down.

HIGH-FIVED THE FANS

As the Zambonis made their final tour before the players took their final shifts, the players skated past the boards to high-five the fans.

One of the players carried a copy of the Guinness World Records and another had the Canadian flag.

Canadian soldiers who had just returned from Afghanistan a few hours earlier were on the property for the very Canadian moment.

It was great stuff.

For the record, the game ended 2,254 to 2,203 thanks to a, er, third-period comeback by the losing red team over the weekend. They had managed to get down by 121 goals at one point.

But nobody will ever remember the score.

They may remember "The Finger."


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