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Jets have super fan in Canadian rock star

The Guess Who frontman Cummings pulling for hometown team in Game 7 against Predators

by Dave Stubbs @Dave_Stubbs / Columnist

Burton Cummings was on the phone from Los Angeles on Wednesday, walking his Jack Russell terrier. "It's very hot, about 97 degrees," the Canadian music legend said. 

It will likely be hotter, at least on the fan thermometer, in Cummings' hometown of Winnipeg on Thursday, and in Nashville, where Game 7 of the Western Conference Second Round will be played at Bridgestone Arena (8 p.m. ET, NBCSN, CBC, SN, TVAS).

Should the Winnipeg Jets defeat the Nashville Predators and reach the Western Conference Final, Cummings expects he'll be flying north to Winnipeg to perform the national anthems at some point during the series against the Vegas Golden Knights, which would begin at Bell MTS Place on Saturday. 

"That's pretty well a given," he says with a laugh. "My manager and I know some of the Jets ownership and the people behind the arena."

From the late 1960s into the mid-1970s, Cummings fronted The Guess Who, a Winnipeg-based band that would hit the big time, scoring a No. 1 hit on the U.S. Billboard chart in 1970 with "American Woman," six top-10 hits, including "No Time" and "These Eyes," and three albums that would hit platinum status (1 million copies sold). He has won virtually every recording award that exists in Canada, been honored with the Order of Canada and the Governor General's Performing Arts Award and been enshrined by a handful of halls of fame for his remarkable body of work.  

Cummings embarked on a successful solo career after The Guess Who disbanded and tours today, entertaining his loyal fans and a new generation who enjoy his thick songbook.

On Monday, Sportsnet produced a video with Cummings for an introduction to Game 6 of the second round, the singer sharing his thoughts on camera about hockey in Winnipeg and his love of the Jets.

Living in Los Angeles and spending generous time in Saskatchewan, one province west of his native Manitoba, Cummings has never lost the profound love of hockey that took root in his youth during the NHL's Original Six era.

"Like many kids in the 1950s in Canada, I had dreams of playing in the NHL," he says.

Once a goaltender, he waxes poetic in conversation about the heroes of his boyhood: Hall of Fame goalies Jacques Plante, Glenn Hall, Johnny Bower, Gump Worsley and Terry Sawchuk. He also speaks with great affection of forwards Bernie Geoffrion and Stan Mikita, and lesser lights like forward Eddie Litzenberger, center Red Sullivan and goaltender Don Simmons.

"I remember Montreal Canadiens defenseman Doug Harvey, one of the greatest defensemen ever," Cummings says. "And Rocket Richard was my ultimate hero. I think he was the greatest who ever played.

"That's not to take anything away from Gordie Howe or Guy Lafleur or Wayne Gretzky or Sidney Crosby or some of those later guys. But if the Rocket got the puck inside the opposing team's blue line, it was pretty much a given it would wind up inside their net."

During the early days of the Jets franchise, first in the World Hockey Association and later the NHL, Cummings sang the national anthems many times at Winnipeg Arena. 

Cummings cherishes the time he spent as one of the boys with the Jets, including being featured as Winnipeg's honorary captain in a 1991-92 hockey card set in full uniform with a C on his jersey. A dozen years earlier, for a CBC TV special called "Portage and Main," the intersection of Winnipeg's two iconic downtown streets, he played goal and faced Jets superstar forward Bobby Hull. Both wore Valley Garden jerseys, a local team Cummings sponsored.

"The segment was a spoof, like a 'Saturday Night Live' skit," he recalls. "Bobby came in at a thousand miles an hour and blasted a slap shot at me. Of course, the camera cut away, then viewers saw me and the net about six rows up into the crowd but with me screaming at the camera, 'I got it! I got it!' with the puck in my glove and Bobby saying, 'I never could score on that Cummings.' It was a great experience being with the Golden Jet."

In the early 1970s, Cummings bought his first big house in Winnipeg, "a great, big rock 'n roll house..

"I had a lot of the Jets over after some of the home games. I got particularly friendly with Joe Daley, the goalie at the time. We drank beers many, many nights. In later years Joe had a sports memorabilia store in Winnipeg (which he still does) and I bought a lot of cards from him."

As part of his honorary captaincy in the early 1990s, Cummings was allowed to practice with the Jets. He vividly remembers forward Eddie Olczyk roaring full speed toward him then slamming on the brakes, covering him in ice shavings.

"It scared the [heck] out of me, but all the guys had a big laugh about it," he says.

Cummings will be watching Game 7 between the Jets and Predators on Thursday, his hometown team's logo figuratively tattooed on his heart.

"If I could choose one of my songs to be the Jets' anthem, the easy choice would be 'Stand Tall,'" he says. "It's a ballad about heartbreak and lost love but really, the title would sum it up. 'Stand Tall.' Let's go, guys. I'm making the big tall wish for Thursday in Nashville that the Jets come through."


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