30 years ago, War and Hockey came together
I will never forget the date: Dec 24th, 1990
I had been in the Navy for just over 3 years and was reporting to my second ship, the USS Mobile Bay (CG-53). After 6 days of travel with stops in LA, Alaska, Japan, Okinawa, the Philippines, Diego Garcia, and Bahrain I arrived in Dubai along with 20 others going to the USS Midway. Needless to say, I was slightly exhausted, a little nervous, and just a bit disoriented. I was to be part of the largest armada to be assembled since August of 1945.
Now you might be wondering “what this has to do with hockey?” This period was 30 years ago during the buildup called Desert Storm. A guided-missile cruiser has space for about 400 sailors. I was new and I knew no one. Along with that, we were in an Arab country, preparing for war. I was days short of my 22nd birthday and my sphincter was as tight as it could get. I was taken down to engineering control to meet some of my new shipmates. The first thing I saw was a fire Ax and sledgehammer that had their handles wrapped like a hockey stick. I asked about the handles and was told one of the Damage Controlmen had done it. Thus, I was introduced to a small group of hockey fans that were in my department and a few others on the ship including our chief Corpsman who we affectionately call “Doc”. Doc got The Hockey News in the mail when we got it and he would let us see it after he was done.
Brett Hull chases 50 in 50
Brett Hull was tearing up the league scoring goals left and right and was on the verge of becoming just the 5th person to score 50 goals in 50 games. My love of the Blues and this mouthy sniper were becoming quickly known throughout our small community of fans. The guys would look for articles and newsreels about the Blues or Hull and ensure I got a copy. Thus, hockey and Hull became my escape from reality for just a few moments each day.
So, while this might not seem like a big deal to most people, we were preparing to enter a minefield and the threat of a gas attack was extremely high. In the days after the New Year, we spent countless hours training for a mine strike or gas attack. While most 18-to-25-year-olds are in college or going to frat parties, we were wearing gas masks every day and going to the battle station multiple times. My mental state was slightly out of whack.
The few times I could get a hold of the news or a magazine that talked about the Golden Brett I was able to escape to the Arena. I could hear my fellow blue-natics cheering and counting every goal. I could see the towel man throwing his wares to the roaring crowd after Tom Calhoun’s deep voice announced each tally. Brian Sutter had created a scoring monster in Hull while at the same time saving me.
Being an Engineer in the Navy meant I spent much of my time below the waterline. My watch station was in one of the engine rooms, which are the largest and widest spaces on the ship and the likeliest of places for a mine to hit, just as one had exploded in the engine room of the USS Ruben James just a year earlier. Every time I heard something bounce off the side of the hull, I was ready for the worst. During these long repetitive days, mail call was a welcome relief.
Looking for Brett Hull Hockey News
Knowing that while I did not receive mail, many of my hockey friends would get magazines or newspapers. You must remember this is long before the internet helped change the way we are informed. Back during Desert Storm and Desert Shield, Flipper did not deliver. We would get mail via helicopter or a type of underway replenishment about once a week. The teletype or ticker has it was known became our best friend and source of news. These news rolls were distributed around the ship and it could take days for you to get one. One of the Junior Radiomen was a fan, and he hid a sports reel in an overhead compartment in our gathering place called Mobile Hall. I would normally check this spot about 4 AM each morning when I was coming off watch.
Just before I would try to get a few moments of sleep before the next day began, I could transport myself into one of the great barns of the ’90s. Where I slept was also under the waterline and my feet were just mere inches from the hull. A gas mask at my back and firefighting flash gear around my neck. However, when I closed my eyes, I was banging on the glass calling the ref a blind asshole, and seeing the puck leap off of the Golden One’s silver tongue. Brett’s one-liners were sharper than a katana. These precious moments cemented my love of everything hockey and included another 28 years of heartbreak until June 12th, 2019.
So yes, I have a special connection to the great St. Louis Blues teams of the past and I now use the same internet that I did not have, to broadcast the BlueNote Fan Report. So, when I say Hockey saved me, I mean Hockey helped get me thru that minefield and many other rough spots in my life.
Guy “Hawaii Blues Fan” Bensing
Cover Image: Stltoday.com