A lot of people might think of Mark Bassler as a hero.
He’s the guy who arrives first when a home or office building is on fire, and he doesn’t hesitate to step into harm’s way to help strangers in need. He’s been doing it since 2005 when he was hired in South Carolina as a firefighter. Since then, he’s moved back home to work for his hometown of Belleville, IL.
“Some days you get car accidents, house fires or medical stuff. Just a little bit of everything,” Bassler said about being a firefighter. “It’s very stressful, but every day is something a little bit different.”
Those who haven’t met him might consider themselves lucky, because it means they probably haven’t had a fire destroy their most important personal possessions. But those who have met him under such circumstances might consider themselves lucky, too, because he was there to help them salvage what was left after the fire.
As it turns out, heroic people can have heroes, too.
Bassler is no different.
His childhood heroes are Keith Tkachuk, Scott Mellanby and Dallas Drake, just to name a few.
And last week, he got a rare opportunity to spend time with each of them at Big Walt’s Fantasy Camp at the Hardee’s IcePlex in Chesterfield. As a camper, he shared the ice with Tkachuk, Mellanby, Barret Jackman
, B.J. Crombeen
and Mike Zuke…and that was just on Day 1. Throughout the week, he participated in scrimmages with Drake, Bruce Affleck, Rick Zombo, T.J. Oshie
, Alex Pietrangelo
, Patrik Berglund
, Carlo Colaiacovo
and many more.
“(This is) a dream come true,” Bassler said. “As a kid, I’d watch hockey on TV and rollerblade around in my kitchen trying to do the same moves the players would do. It’s amazing…just awesome.”
The camp was organized by Affleck, a former Blues defenseman who currently works as the team’s Vice President of Broadcasting and Blues Alumni. Through months of hard work, Affleck reserved ice time, made travel arrangements for alumni, collected auction items and arranged for three days of food and beverage for all the camp’s participants. This year’s camp featured 120 people, all of whom played in two scrimmages a day with Blues hockey legends, both past and present.
Individual registration cost $500, but campers could register an entire team for $6,000. The money raised from the event will benefit the Make-A-Wish Foundation and a Blues Alumni organization that pays registration fees and purchases hockey equipment to help children stay in hockey when they otherwise couldn't afford to.
“Big Walt’s Fantasy Camp is really just for the hockey and the camaraderie,” Affleck said. “It’s not for the games itself, we don’t care who wins or loses. We’ve got people from 21 to 62 years old. There are eight different teams and all of them want the same thing…just to have fun and enjoy the game of hockey.”
When Affleck began planning the camp, he did so with people like Bassler in mind.
“Let’s take these guys back 10 years ago,” Affleck said. “They remember watching Scott Mellanby playing for the Blues. Scott is probably somebody’s hero. And now he’s out there with them.”
Each camper got a jersey and a pair of socks to wear during camp. After each skate, they were treated to dinner and drinks and could participate in live auctions that included a guitar autographed by U2's Bono and autographed memorabilia from Tkachuk, Wayne Gretzky and Brett Hull. Campers could also bid on current Blues players they wanted for their team during the next day’s scrimmage.
All of it came together into one big lasting memory for Bassler, who says the Blues are a very important part of his life. He became a Season Ticket Holder in 2003 but had to put his account on hold when he moved to South Carolina. As soon as he moved back to the metro area in 2008, he called to renew his tickets. He traveled to Stockholm to see the Blues open the season against the Detroit Red Wings in Sweden in 2009, and that’s where he met his girlfriend, also a Blues Season Ticket Holder who traveled to see the team play overseas.
Yet one of his most memorable Blues moments came at this Fantasy Camp when Tkachuk slashed him across the leg and took him down on the first day.
“He got me good,” Bassler said, recalling the incident. “I have a hole in my sock because of him, and these socks have to last all camp.”
“Some things haven’t changed,” Tkachuk said. “When you get slower and age, you tend to do things a little bit dirtier. I have the most penalties so far in the tournament. But it’s nice that I get a chance to play hockey with these people. It’s nice to get that opportunity.”
But the real pleasure is all Bassler's. Like other campers, he had to pinch himself several times to be sure he wasn't dreaming: yes, that really was Tkachuk that slashed him and yes, that really was Mellanby who passed him the puck.
“I always wanted to be a Blue and play with the Blues, but I didn’t have the hockey skills so I went the firefighter route,” Bassler said. “But now I finally got to, and this is a childhood dream come true.”