A look back at the Red Wings’ last ever #6: Cummy Burton

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Cummy Burton and Gordie Howe. As a rookie, Burton roomed with Mr. Hockey on road trips. 

Jeopardy contestant: I’ll take NHL Potpourri for $400, Alex. 

Alex Trebek: He was the last player to wear #6 for the Detroit Red Wings. 

Jeopardy contestant: Who is Larry Aurie? 

Alex Trebek: Oh I’m sorry, we were actually looking for Cummy Burton. 

Jeopardy contestant: The singer from the Guess Who played hockey?

Odds are you’re probably not familiar with Cummy Burton either, but you should be.  His NHL statline isn’t exactly flattering, but his story’s one of the most unique and intriguing from the entirety of NHL history.

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Stats from Hockey-Reference.com

Born in Sudbury, Ontario in 1936, Burton played junior hockey in the Ontario Hockey Association for the Windsor Spitfires and the Hamilton Tiger Cubs. Heading into his final year in the Hammer, Burton signed a professional contract with the Detroit Red Wings. He only played three games with the big club that season and spent most of his time with the Tiger Cubs, where he racked up 61 points in 38 games. 

The following year, Burton found himself in Edmonton playing for Detroit’s Western Hockey League (WHL) affiliate, the Flyers. In his first campaign out west he picked up 29 points in 57 games. Midway through the 1957-58 season, Burton got the call he had been waiting, the Red Wings wanted him back in Detroit. This time around turned out to be a much more meaningful stint in Motown. 

Not only did Burton record his first NHL point, but he also had the opportunity to pay tribute to his cousin Larry Aurie. The latter had captained the Red Wings in the early 1930s and helped the team win back-to-back Stanley Cups in 1936 and 1937. After Aurie played his final full season with the club in 1937-38, owner James Norris retired his No. 6 jersey. 

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Larry Aurie scored 148 goals and 277 points in 489 games with the Detroit Red Wings. 

So when it came time for Burton to choose a number in Detroit, it was a pretty easy decision. He knew he wanted to honor his cousin. After receiving permission from the team and approval from Aurie’s family, Burton became the first Red Wings player in nearly twenty years to wear No. 6. 

Of course, Burton had the chance to wear a couple of other numbers in Motown, but they were not of his choosing. According to his obituary, he was asked by the team in 1959 to turn in his usual jersey for one that had the No. 9 on the front and No. 7 on the back. If you know your hockey history, you’d immediately recognize that those numbers belonged to Gordie Howe and Ted Lindsay respectively. It turns out that both players had received death threats from a “disgruntled Leafs fan and they wanted the rookie Burton to test the waters.” Given the circumstances it’s not surprising that Cummy refused the request. 

After suiting up in 26 games for the Red Wings in 1957-58, Cummy played 14 more for Detroit in 1958-59, but found himself spending most of his time with the Seattle Totems of the WHL. Those final contests with the Red Wings would be his last games in the NHL. He spent the remainder of his hockey career back in his hometown of Sudbury with the Wolves in the Eastern Professional Hockey League, with a few more stints in the WHL before a botched knee surgery forced him into retirement. 

Back in Sudbury, after hanging up his skates, Burton held a number of jobs ranging from car salesman to working for the railway, but it was his career in local sports broadcasting that most endeared him to his community.  

What’s curious about the Red Wings No. 6 jersey is that it has never been truly retired. Although Aurie and Burton were the last players to wear it, it does not hang from the rafters at Joe Louis Arena. While all the previously retired numbers were raised after Mike Illitch bough the team in 1982, Aurie’s No. 6 is still the Schrodinger’s cat of Red Wings sweaters. According to a 1997 article in the Free Press, Detroit’s Vice President, Jimmy Devellano, reportedly said that the club didn’t formally honor Aurie’s jersey because was not a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame. 

When Burton was still alive, he had a few choice words about the debate over his cousin’s jersey. He reportedly said that, “not hanging up Larry’s number would be compared to the Yankees’ not retiring Lou Gehrig’s numbers, just because he was from the 1930s and now forgotten just because it’s all old stuff now…it’s like saying that war heroes don’t mean anything, just because they’re not around anymore.”

It’s been 57 years since Burton donned number for Detroit six and nearly 80 years since his cousin, Larry, wore it with distinction. Since then no other Red Wings player has pulled that sweater over their head and yet, it has still not been properly retired. You’d have to hope that when the team moves into Little Caesars Arena, part of those plans include raising No. 6, and No. 16 for that matter, to the rafters. 

Until then, “Who was the last player to wear number six for the Detroit Red Wings?” would likely be one of the most challenging Trivial Pursuit hockey questions out there.