Old-time Red Wings fans — and boy do I hate seeing myself increasingly descending into that category — may well recall the Guy in the Red Hat at Olympia Stadium.
‘Member him? He was the beefy guy in a red Olympia attendant’s outfit — red hat, red sports coat, red pants — who used to sit between competing hockey players in the old penalty box. What a gig. For apparent reasons of space, there was only one penalty box at the Olympia, so when teams took coinciding penalties, the offending players sat next to each other in the box. How’s that for provocative? Here two guys may have been tearing each other apart on the ice — via dirty hits, a fistfight, a high sticking duel, you name it — and their punishment was to go sit in the penalty box … next to the hated guy they had just tangled with.
And that’s where the Guy in the Red Hat came in. HE was situated there, like a traffic cop, between contesting players. As I recall, the guy we got used to seeing in the Red Hat was no spring chicken. He appeared to be in his 40s or early 50s, and definitely of a beefy body design. In fact, he looked a bit like old Red Wings dictator Jack Adams (actually the longtime general manager and sometime coach of the franchise), and he was there to try, somehow — and against all reason — to keep the peace. Fat chance.
What invariably happened, and we saw it over and over at the Olympia and sometimes on TV, was that the two players would resume their battle in the box. Sticks might go up, or punches would again be exchanged. The difference now was that the Guy in the Red Hat was caught between the two, trying to simultaneously subdue both of them, with only ONE inevitable result. And that was that the Guy in the Red Hat would invariably get his hat (red) knocked off. Say the Red Wings’ Ted Lindsay and Dickie Moore of the Canadiens were sent to the box for an on-ice dukeout. With those two, it was certain that the battle would continue in the box. Lindsay might reach over and grab Moore, who would respond with a wild right hand swinging punch, and BAM … off would fly the Guy in the Red Hat’s hat.
As I mentioned, we never knew the identify of this brave fellow. He did look like Jack Adams, maybe he was his brother. He may have been a cop, or possibly –based on his appearance — a former wrestler or wrestling coach, because he would throw himself into the tussles with gusto. What would begin as a mano a’ mano batttle always turned into a three-man rumble. If — as often happened — both teams sent multiple players to the box after a mid-ice free-for-all, what continued in the box — always with the Guy in the Red Hat’s hat flying — was tag team mayhem. You might have, say, Lindsay again and Gord Howe and Red Kelly on one side … with Moore and Rocket Richard and Bert Olmstead in there for the Habs. All six guys would almost certainly jump at each other, with fists and sticks and the Red Hat flying.
Why the Guy in the Red Hat did what he did is anybody’s guess. He was there seemingly for decades, the ’50s into the ’60s I seem to recall. I hope he was well rewarded for his troubles. More than that, I hope the dude had bigtime insurance. ‘Cause was more than one time when the Guy in the Red Hat ended up with a bloodied (red, of course) face. And THAT was colorful hockey, lemme tell ya, back in the Original Six days.