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During a promotional tour of the Upper Peninsula during the summer of 1953, Detroit Red Wings general manager Jack Adams and team captain Ted Lindsay visited the Marquette Branch Prison. After a tour of the correctional facility, warden Emery Jacques invited the Red Wings back to play against a rag-tag team of prison inmates. Thinking it would never happen because the prison had no ice rink, Adams agreed, but was shocked a few months later when Jacques called and said the arrangements were proceeding nicely and the rink would be ready in early 1954. Adams honored his agreement and plans were made for the Red Wings to travel to Marquette to play the game on February 2, 1954 on an outdoor rink at the prison.  It would be the first outdoor game in NHL history.

The prison’s recreational director was Leonard “Oakie” Brumm, a former skater on the University of Michigan 1948 NCAA Championship hockey team. Brumm had already built a miniature golf course, shuffleboard and bocce ball courts, and a curling rink at the prison, so a hockey rink was right up his alley. The makeshift rink was a far cry from the Red Wing’s Olympia Arena in Detroit, and it was imposing to play under guard towers and thirty-foot stone walls topped with razor wire.

Although some prison officials were worried about putting hockey sticks in the hands of convicted felons, the Red Wings were hockey players after all, and Ted Lindsay reckoned that they could hold their own. “I was never concerned, because I figured that I could take care of myself,” Lindsay said in 2012. “But I felt very strongly from having been close to them in the summertime and mingling with them that there was no reason to be worried.”

The entire inmate population turned out to see Lindsay, Terry Sawchuk, Red Kelly, Alex Delvecchio, Gordie Howe and the rest of the team take the ice against the Marquette Prison Pirates. The temperature that day was 21 degrees; it was a perfect for outdoor hockey in Marquette.

The Prison Pirates, however, were no match for the Red Wings. Detroit goalie Terry Sawchuck spent most of the game sitting on top of his net; at one point Sawchuck left the ice to sign autographs and the Prison Pirates were unable to score in the empty net. At the end of the first period the score was Red Wings 18, Pirates 0.

Sawchuck was recruited to tend goal for the Pirates during the second period. Lindsay and Howe were drafted by the Pirates as well. For the third period, the exhausted and frustrated Pirates surrendered the ice to the Red Wings, who played an intra-squad scrimmage that was an exhibition of their skating, shooting and passing abilities.

At the end of the game the Red Wings were awarded a trophy made from a galvanized steel “Honey Bucket”. They also received hand-made leather wallets from the prison craft store, imprinted with each of their names and the famous “Winged Wheel” team logo. Two months later, in April 1954, the Red Wings would win a somewhat more famous trophy– the 1954 Stanley Cup.

Learn more about the “dueling surveyors” in our interview with Michigan Radio Stateside: [Embed audio and transcript]

15 men, most of whom are wearing striped hockey jerseys, stand in two rows and pose with their hockey sticks for a group photo
The Marquette Prison Hockey Team, 1959. [Archives of Michigan]

States of Incarceration

Learn more about the history of incarceration in Michigan with our special exhibit, States of Incarceration

Many fascinating stories like this one are featured in our special exhibit, States of Incarceration. This national traveling exhibit explores the history and impact of mass incarceration nationwide and the Michigan History Museum has added stories throughout to reflect specifically on Michigan’s place in the past and future of mass incarceration.

Purple block with four white bars. Text overlaid on white bars reads "States of Incarceration"