prison break, 1954

Jailhouse Puck: Detroit coach Jack Adams shows off the championship latrine bucket with Red Wings captain Ted Lindsay at his side.

It was on a Tuesday of this same date in 1954 that the soon-to-be-Stanley-Cup- champion Detroit Red Wings played a famous afternoon exhibition game within the walls of Marquette Branch Prison on Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, , Lake Superior-side. Detroit lined up all their big guns, Ted Lindsay, Gordie Howe, Terry Sawchuk, Alex Delvecchio; the green-sweatered Prison Pirates got their goaling from Bugsy Williams, a thief who’d been released from  solitary confinement for the occasion.

Detroit GM Jack Adams had been visiting Marquette in the summer of 1953 as a guest of Warden Emory Jacques when he came across a pair of inmates whose (unincarcerated) acquaintance he’d made back when he’d first arrived in Detroit in the 1920s. Decades later, the men were serving time for their roles in a notorious murder. Meeting Adams again in ’53, they’d blithely invited him and his Red Wings to come back for a friendly scrimmage. When Adams agreed, he may not have been as serious as Warden Jacques was in making it happen. Jacques was just then hiring a new prison athletic director, Oakie Brumm, who was duly charged first thing in making good on the hockey game.

Which he did. That winter, Brumm saw to it that a rink was built in the prison yard. Adams took care of skates and equipment, donating gear that had previously belonged to the USHL Omaha Knights, a former Red Wing farm team. Brumm took care of the coaching: he’d played for the University of Michigan when they won an NCAA championship in 1948.

“They were scoring a goal a minute,” Brumm recalled of the showdown with Detroit, “and could have done it quicker if I had pulled the puck out of the net faster. When it was 18-0 Wings at the end of the first period, the scorekeeper quit keeping score.”

Far from the scoring, Sawchuk sat atop his net and once, when the puck did come his way, raced out to try his luck at on Bugsy Williams. He took a deliberate tripping penalty, too, so he could sign some autographs in the box. The second period saw the two teams mix their line-ups. For the third, the Red Wings played an intra-squad, showing off their skills to the enthusiastic crowd of inmates and guards.

Boxed: Detroit winger Johnny Wilson on the bench with goaltender Terry Sawchuk and a Marquette guard.

The game went into the books as a 5-2 Detroit win: at least, that’s the story the Associated Press flashed out to newspapers across North America. The prize was the fabled Doniker Trophy, which still resides in the Red Wings’ archive — a prison latrine bucket seconded to service to reward the visiting champions. The NHLers also received hand-tooled wallets to remember their visit, and they shared a meal with the Pirates.

The Red Wings played a second exhibition that night, on the ice at the local Marquette Palestra, against the Sentinels of the Northern Michigan League. They won that one 16-6.

Walls of Red Wing: The ice at Marquette State Prison, Michigan, built for the Red Wings’ game in 1954.


One thought on “prison break, 1954

  1. I love Puckstruck. I’ve studied a lot of hockey history but envy you your detail and great photos. Congratulations that are long overdue.

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