Wednesday, May 23, 2012

An Honour for Cummy Burton

It is always a special occasion when a former member of the Original Six era is saluted by his community.

Last week, I highlighted the NHL career of former New York Ranger Bill McDonagh,  who enters the Sudbury Sports Hall of Fame on June 13, 2012.

This time around, a profile of Cummy Burton's National Hockey League journey with the Detroit Red Wings. He joins McDonagh as the newest inductee from hockey's golden age to be recognized by the Hall in Sudbury, Ontario.

A native of Sudbury, Burton tipped the scales at 170 pounds and measured five-foot-ten during his time in the game. Playing right wing, he started his junior career in 1952-53 with the Windsor Spitfires.

After one campaign in Windsor, Burton finished out his time in the OHA with the Hamilton Tiger Cubs. He spent a total of three years (1953-54 to 1955-56) in Hamilton, a club sponsored by the NHL Red Wings.

In his final year with Hamilton, Burton got the telephone call every player dreams of answering. He was being summoned by Jack Adams and the Detroit Red Wings.

Beyond the normal relationship between player and team, there was another connection involving Detroit and Cummy Burton. His uncle, Larry Aurie, was a former star with Detroit.

Aurie, spent 12 seasons in the Detroit organization, beginning in 1927-28 with the Cougars. Small in size - five-foot-six, 148 pounds - Aurie, patrolled the right wing. He captured two Stanley Cups (1936 & 1937), and topped the list for goal production in 1936-37. He lead the NHL by beating opposition goalies 23-times.

Cummy Burton fell under the influence of his famous uncle at an early age. Prior to playing junior, young Cummy would practice with the Oshawa Generals (OHA), who were coached by Aurie. It was a case of a mentor taking every opportunity to pass on his knowledge to a willing student.

Once Burton joined the junior ranks in Windsor, Aurie would travel from his Detroit home to observe his nephew in-action.

"Larry was like a brother to me," stated Burton when assessing his bond with Aurie.

The hard work paid-off in mid-March 1956 when the Red Wings came calling. Upon completing his final year in Hamilton, Burton joined the Red Wings to participate in practices.

His status changed when forward Murray Costello suffered a broken nose. Burton took his spot on the roster, having been called-up under the terms of the amateur tryout agreement.

Since his retirement in 1938-39, following one last game in a Detroit uniform, no player wore Aurie's number six. Although the number wasn't officially retired, Jack Adams kept it in mothballs.

When the opportunity arose for Burton to pull a Red Wings jersey over his head, consideration was given to his wearing number six. It would serve as a tribute to Uncle Larry.

"I don't want to wear number six until the day I join the Red Wings as a regular. I'll save it until I'm big enough for it," said Burton, who wore number twenty-one for three matches late in 1955-56. Also, he suited-up for three contests in the 1956 playoffs.

In 1956-57, Burton skated for the Edmonton Flyers in the Western Hockey League.

The next year, 1957-58, Burton once again found himself in the big-show with Detroit. He split the season between the Red Wings (26 games) and the Edmonton Flyers (35 games).

Watching Cummy Burton perform on video, provides insight on his style of play.

From the archives, I dusted-off a tape container with the label reading October 12, 1957. The two combatants were the Detroit Red Wings and Toronto Maple Leafs. In the line-up for Detroit was Cummy Burton.

Broadcast from Maple Leaf Gardens, the start of period two was just getting underway. Both clubs, having registered three goals apiece.

Early in the second, Detroit coach Jimmy Skinner sent out a line with Forbes Kennedy at left wing, Dutch Reibel at centre, and Cummy Burton at right wing.

It didn't take Burton long to get the attention of a national audience.

Inside the Leafs blue line, Kennedy propelled the puck behind Toronto's net. Marc Reaume, a defenceman for Toronto, gained control to the left of the Leafs cage and began to move up ice. As he skated forward, Reaume had difficulty maintaining possession. This caused him to peer down, putting himself in a vulnerable position. Cummy Burton, cruising along the right wing, had a line on Reaume.

And he didn't misfire.

Reaume, "took a terrific crash there, a good solid body-check," is the way Foster Hewitt described the play for those watching on Hockey Night in Canada.

The massive hit levelled Reaume. It was as though he skated right into a brick wall. Dazed, the Leaf rearguard was unable to get up for several moments. He required medical attention and seemed to be favouring his left shoulder.

At first glance, like so many others plying their trade in the game on October 12th,  Burton didn't appear to be an overly aggressive player when it came to physical contact. His walloping of Reaume was an indication Burton didn't shy away from a chance to take-out an opponent.

Later, Hewitt made reference to Burton as being "a rugged player."

Similar to his counterparts in the Original Six era, Burton played a positional game. His assignment being to protect his side of the ice. This was accomplished by going up and down his wing and looking after his responsibilities.

On offence, Burton pursued loose pucks, diligently forechecking to wrestle the frozen disc of vulcanized rubber away from Toronto. The aim, to apply pressure, hoping for a turnover.

When action shifted towards Detroit's end, Burton went on defence, looking to pick-up and snag his check. He would become entangled with his opponent, using a glove or stick to gain any advantage.

With time dwindling down in the later stages of period three, Burton demonstrated some jam on offence.

At Toronto's blue line, he scooped-up the puck along the right boards. He eluded Leaf winger Sid Smith by cutting to the middle. Sensing open ice, Burton set his sights on Toronto goalie Ed Chadwick. Using defender Jimmy Morrison as a screen, Burton fired a low shot. His scoring chance being denied by Chadwick, who kicked-out his skate to deflect the puck.

The visitors from the Motor City, departed Toronto with a 5 to 3 victory.

There is a twist when investigating Burton's point totals in the National Hockey League. Reference guides and other sources supplying statistical data, all credit Burton with accumulating two points. Both recorded in the assist column.

I came across at least three separate scoring summaries, which indicate he was awarded an assist on a goal.

The first two pertain to helpers in early 1957.

In a 6 to 3 loss in Montreal on November 2, 1957, Burton received an assist on Don Poile's goal at 9:10 of period three.

On November 9, 1957, Burton and his teammates visited Maple Leaf Gardens for a tilt against Toronto. At 12:54 of the final frame, Forbes Kennedy scored to pull Detroit even with Toronto at three-all. The officials gave a lone assist to Burton.

Of note, a game story written by the Star's Red Burnett, provides a description of Kennedy's tally. "In the ensuing scramble Cummy Burton caromed a pass off Jim Morrison's skates to Forbes Kennedy, who snapped it past Chadwick," wrote the Star scribe.

It is possible, Burton may have been stripped of his contribution towards Kennedy's goal. This makes sense as the puck hit Leaf defenceman Morrison, prior to landing on the stick of his linemate.

Cummy Burton's last kick-at-the-can with Detroit came in 1958-59. He was recalled from the Seattle Totems in February 1959.

With the Boston Bruins venturing into the Olympia on March 3, 1959, Cummy Burton produced his final NHL point.

And this wasn't just another late season encounter.

Billed as "Gordie Howe Night", the Detroit ace was showered with numerous gifts and tokens of appreciation. None bigger than a brand spanking new station wagon, containing several important passengers - Mr. & Mrs. Howe - Gordie's father and mother. It was the first chance for Mr. Howe to see his son perform in an NHL game, in-person.

Thanks to Marcel Pronovost, the home team jumped out to a first period lead at the 11:01 mark. The helpers going to Johnny Wilson and Cummy Burton. Detroit built-up a 2 to 0 margin, but Boston fought back with goals in the second and third periods. The contest ended in a 2 to 2 draw, with former Red Wing Johnny Bucyk beating Terry Sawchuk for the equalizer.

The Windsor Daily Star, described Pronovost's goal (Wilson/Burton) as follows:

Johnny Wilson out fought Don McKenney for the puck in the corner and Cummy Burton flicked the disc back to Pronovost, a couple of strides inside the Boston zone. He moved up and let fly a low, 30-footer that caught the cage past Lumley's right side for his seventh goal of the season.
Over a span of three seasons, Cummy Burton laced up his skates for 43 NHL regular season games. All with the Detroit Red Wings. Come playoff time, he took part in three post-season matches, but didn't register a point.

So, what became of the idea for Burton to wear his uncle's number six? The plan being he would don a number six jersey once he earned a regular spot in Detroit's line-up.

That time came following the Wings training camp in 1957.

A brief passage appearing in the Hockey News on October 12, 1957, shed light onto how the Wings were going to proceed when assigning numbers.

"...Burton is a nephew of the late Larry Aurie and will wear the famed number six that Aurie wore so well for Detroit...," informed the bible of hockey.

Harry Lawrence "Little Dempsey" Aurie, passed away on December 11, 1952.

There is little doubt he would have given his stamp-of-approval for Cummy to be the next-in-line to wear his number six. Not to mention, his nephew being inducted into the Sudbury Sports Hall of Fame.

1 comment:

  1. Mr. Amedeo ,
    I am the son of cummy Burton, and really enjoyed your aticle. In it you mentioned that you watched a video of my father playing in the NHL, which I have not had the pleasure of doing. I was hoping you would let me know where I may be able to get a copy. Any help would be appreciated. My email