You Won’t Believe Where The First National Hockey League Outdoor Game Was Played!
On January 1 we will see the traditional National Hockey League’s New Year’s Day event. Here we will see the Detroit Red Wings take on the Toronto Maple Leafs at Toronto’s BMO Field.
This game will be in stark contrast to the Red Wings first outdoor game in which they played behind high barbed wire fences, in the yard of a maximum-security prison. Having just beaten the Chicago Blackhawks, the Detroit Red Wings kitted up and were off to their next game, one with a slight difference. After being searched and frisked by armed guards, the mighty Red Wings took to the ice at the maximum-security Marquette Branch Prison on 2 February 1954.
Their opponents consisted of kidnappers, thieves and murderers. This was to be the first outdoor game of the NHL or National Hockey League. The idea for the game started when team general manager Jack Adams and Red Wings captain Ted Lindsay paid a visit to the prison the previous summer. Stroh’s Brewery had sponsored a tour of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula when the two decided to visit the penitentiary that lies on the southern shores of Lake Superior.
Emery Jacques, a warden at the prison urged Adams to come back with his team and take on the prisoners. Not thinking anything would come of it, especially considering the prison had no rink nor equipment, Adams agreed, provided the team’s plane, meals and accommodation were paid for. Lindsay told reporters: “Jack figured he’d never hear from him again.”
Adams was most surprised when a few months later the warden advised that he had secured the $2,500 needed for the expenses. He did this by making a deal with the owners of the semi-professional Marquette Sentinels on condition the Red Wings play an exhibition game with their team while in town. Not only did Jack stick to his word, he went so far as to supply hockey equipment used by the Omaha Knights to the inmates.
The prisons new recreation director set about creating a rink. In front of an audience of 600 convicts, the Red Wings took to the ice. Conditions were perfect and the ice was perfectly polished and prepared. At the end of the first period it was already 18-0 to the Red Wings. In some light-hearted sportsmanship, the final score was reported as a tight 5-2 victory by the Red Wings over the “prison pucksters.”