Operation Desert Storm began just three days before the 42nd NHL All-Star Game held on January 19, 1991. Some organizers and players wondered whether they should cancel the game, but President John Ziegler decided against that. After the game, Wayne Gretzky, then of the Los Angeles Kings, commented, “It doesn’t seem right that we’re here having a good time while soldiers are getting killed in the Persian Gulf. During intermissions between periods, we came down to the locker room and watched the news updates.” New York Islanders Pat LaFontaine seemed to reflect the sentiments seen in many fan banners when he said, “We know the real All-Stars are sacrificing their lives in the Persian Gulf. We know this is just a game.”
Chicago Stadium sold out with a crowd of 18,472 patriots. As part of the opening ceremony, they observed a moment of silence for the troops. Gretzky said afterwards, “And today was just unreal. The bedsheets for troops overseas. The moment of silence. The only moment of silence. I’m Canadian, but like I was saying to Messier on the blue line, these Americans really rally behind a cause.” All the players wore United Nations flag decals on their helmets.
Following the announcements, Wayne Messmer came out to sing both national anthems. The crowd began cheering during “O Canada” and only increased in enthusiasm throughout “The Star Spangled Banner.” They waved sparklers and flags and really let loose during the last line of the song. Gretzky, in his 11th of 18 All-Star appearances, leaned over to tell Mark Messier, “This is unbelievable.” He told the press afterwards, “I’ve heard it as loud in here before but never as emotional. The flags of both countries, the banners, the vibrations. You could tell that the fans, like us, were thinking of other things.” Blackhawks coach Mike Keenan said, “The passions and feelings they demonstrated were extraordinary. It showed everyone viewing the game what everyone’s emotions were here.” He continued, “The unfortunate aspect of the war, its lingering thought, could have spoiled the weekend. But the patriotism shown here was special.”
Once the game began, it seemed to be all about scoring while ignoring defense. Loyal Chicago Blackhawks fans felt that their goalie, Eddie Belfour, should have been on the Campbell Conference team instead of watching from the stands with his son. However, it wasn’t the Campbell Conference that struggled. Their coach, John Muckler of the Edmonton Oilers, pushed for high scoring since the Campbell Conference had lost to the Wales Conference 12-7 at the previous All-Star game (at Pittsburgh). Muckler commented, “The passing skills out there were tremendous, and I feel sorry for the goaltenders, really, left alone and isolated.”
For the Campbell Conference, Gretzky scored mid-way into the game with his 11th All-Star goal. Being one more than Gordie Howe had scored, this made Gretzky the all-time leader. The three Blackhawks on the team (Steve Larmer, Jeremy Roenick, and Chris Chelios) earned seven points between them, to the delight of the home crowd. The MVP of the game was Vincent Damphousse of the Toronto Maple Leafs, in his first of three All-Star appearances. He scored once in the first period and thrice in the third to match the record for most goals scored in one All-Star game. Gretzky had set the record back in 1983, and Mario Lemieux had tied that the previous year. At the end of the night, the Campbell Conference beat the Wales Conference 11-5. Gretzky summed it up. “But there was such a good mood in that rink, such patriotism. It was good for hockey. It was a good show, period.”
- Bob Verdi, “Meaningless? Not here, not now,” Chicago Tribune, 20 Jan. 1991, section 3, p. 1 and 13.
- Mike Kiley, “Hawk trio stars in big show,” Chicago Tribune, 20 Jan. 1991, section 3, p. 1.