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St. Albert Oilers fan plays sax in Oilers Drum and Brass band

Local musician Jonny McCormack brings music to Edmonton Oilers games
St. Albert saxophone player and Oilers Drum and Brass Crew band member Jonny McCormack prepares to play some tunes for the crowd at an Edmonton Oilers game. SUPPLIED/Photo

St. Albert resident Jonny McCormack has attended every Edmonton Oilers match held in Rogers Place arena since the start of the 2018-2019 season, but his view of the game is a bit different from the average fan.

As a saxophone player with the Edmonton Oilers Drum and Brass Crew, McCormack, instrument in hand, sees the action on ice from a platform carved into the wall in the upper-levels of the arena. It’s there that the band provides the game with some added musical narration.

He still remembers the first time he stepped into the band’s room at the top, his friends, a group of brass and percussion musicians, at his sides, and looked over the crowd.

“It was past surreal; it was unreal,” he said.

The seven-person Drum and Bass Crew also performs pre-game, wandering the arena’s concourse and the plaza outside to entertain crowds of fans that keep getting bigger as the Oilers compete in the playoffs and “Oilers mania” sets in.

Whether they’re playing Christmas carols, the theme song to the ’90s sitcom Coach or an Edmonton Oilers song they created themselves, McCormack thinks the band’s job is to “make everybody happy to be at a community event.”

“Going to an Oilers game is an Edmonton community institution, so my job is to make everybody feel accepted, make everybody feel welcome,” he said.

They were hired by the Oilers to provide “a marching band feel,” said Matt Laird, the band’s Sousaphone.

“One of the guys who does the in-game presentation was from Michigan,” Laird said. “They have marching bands there.”

Having 40 band members wasn’t feasible for the Oilers, so instead the drum and brass band has more of a “New Orleans feel,” Laird said.

As musician and a big Oilers fan, McCormack said the job is basically a dream gig that he landed through his network of musician friends.

“All the musicians in Edmonton know each other in some way or another,” he said. “It’s just who's available, who says yes, who's a good hang?”

McCormack is intimately familiar with the throngs of fans that come and go from the arena on game night.

While crowds can get energetic and rowdy, McCormack said the overall vibe is positive, even when the team loses. Toronto and Calgary fans can be more physical, but it’s “playful.”

There’s an unspoken rule not to talk with NHL players, but as someone who frequents the arena, McCormack has had a few close encounters.

“I'm in the back — I'm where the Zamboni goes to the rink, and Mr. Wayne Gretzky is coming towards me,” he said. “And so I make eye contact with him just as a, you know, lifelong fan.”

Gretzky looked back, seemingly to acknowledge his familiarity with McCormack.

“And then the closer we get, he looks at me and he's like, ‘Wait a minute. No — this isn't the guy I thought he was.’”

Although McCormack didn’t get the chance to speak with the hockey icon — he does practice one of Gretzky’s pre-game rituals. He eats two hot dogs before the game, a superstition meant to bring the Oilers victory. (McCormack admits he is flexible, and will drop a routine if it doesn’t yield success.)

There is no word on whether he’ll stop eating the hot dogs. In their latest match against the Dallas Stars, the Oilers suffered a 5-3 defeat.

About the Author: Riley Tjosvold

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