October 01, 2010

The Most Infamous Exhibition Game Of All Time

The end of the NHL pre-season is mercifully within sight, as the NHL drops the puck on it's 93rd season next week.

All of these exhibition games reminds me of the most infamous exhibition game of all time - the day Gordie Howe's Detroit Red Wings played a game in 21 degree Fahrenheit temperatures on an outdoor ice surface constructed at Marquette Prison in Michigan's Upper Peninsula.

It seems Detroit's manager Jack Adams made a deal, mostly in jest, that the Wings would scrimmage against the inmates. Adams had visited the prison to visit a couple of mobsters by the name of Ray Bernstein and Harry Keywell, notable Detroit sports fans before their incarceration. He promised the duo the Wings appearance at Marquette, knowing full well that the prison had no facilities and no hockey team.

That changed shortly thereafter, as the prison hired Oakie Brumm, a celebrated University of Michigan hockey player, as the prison's director of physical activity. He arranged for the outdoor ice surface, and then hounded Adams to come through with his promise.

Adams donated used equipment to the inmates so that they could practice. Then, on Groundhog's Day 1954, the Wings faced-off with the criminals, some of whom were incarcerated for crimes that would make hockey tough guys look like teddy bears.

Not surprisingly, the game was a mismatch. The Wings were up 18-0 after the first period, and that's when they stopped keeping score. On account had Gordie Howe circling around the net unimpeded three times before finally taking a shot and scoring.

At the end of the game the victorious Wings were awarded a "honey bucket," a pail prisoners used in their cells as toilets. Adams hoisted the trophy up high, as if it were the Stanley Cup.

Adams is quoted as saying "This is a great day. I'm proud of having such a fine farm team up here in the north. The only trouble is, you guys sure have made it tough for me to recruit any of you."

If you think that story is weird, try this one on for size. A couple of year earlier the Montreal Canadiens played an exhibition game of softball of all things against the inmates at St. Vincent de Paul Penitentiary. The always competitive Doug Harvey got into fierce nose-to-nose argument with the home-plate umpire. That was probably not the wisest thing Harvey ever did. The umpire was serving a life sentence for murder!

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