Detroit Red Wings First Outdoor Hockey Game Was at a Michigan Prison
This sounds like a concept for a sports movie, but it really happened on February 2, 1954.
A warden named Emery Jacques, at the Marquette prison in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, invited the Detroit Red Wings to come there and play a game outdoors. This was the first time the Red Wings had ever played an outdoor game and quite certainly their first, and only game, to be held at a prison.
The rink was contained by razor wire-topped stone walls and watchtowers around the rink were armed at what is considered one of the state’s most notorious maximum-security prisons. It had the nickname "the Alcatraz of the North".
Several articles about this unique event report that there were concerns about doing an event like this because the population of criminals there were people who had committed some of the worst crimes imaginable. It is also said that their hockey skills were just as heinous. And of course, since fighting is legal in the game of hockey, there were concerns.
But they decided to go ahead with the Groundhog Day game anyway and the day of the game was perfect for some outdoor hockey (and there were no fights that we are aware of). Red Wings legend Gordie Howe, who was among many stars of the team to travel to the U.P. for the match said the ice was “the best he had ever played on.” It was a crisp 22 degrees with overcast skies and light wind.
The game was also thrilling for the inmates, even though those who played were soundly defeated by the professional team. The prison team decided to go with the nickname 'Marquette Prison Pirates'. The score was 18-0, in favor of the Red Wings over the Pirates, at the end of the 1st Period and scores were not kept for the remainder of the game.
But Gordie Howe tried to help by switching teams mid-game and even wearing a #16 pirates jersey (Wait, what? Was #9 not available or already being used?!) The Red Wings also swapped a few other players including goalie Terry Sawchuk, as well as a defensive line.
Detroit's General Manager Jack Adams was awarded a honey bucket as a makeshift trophy for the win.
The game made history in several ways. Not only was it the first 'Winter Classic', sort of, but no other NHL team has ever played at a prison against prisoners as far as we know other than on that U.P. winter day in 1954.
Perhaps this prison entertainment served as a little inspiration for the 'Man in Black' Johnny Cash? Of course, we all know about his famous concert at Folsom Prison in California 14 years later in May of 1968.
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