Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Murray Armstrong : 1916-2010

One of the oldest living players from the Original Six era, Murray Armstrong, passed away on December 8, 2010.

In fact, Armstrong pre-dated the era, having started his National Hockey League career with the Toronto Maple Leafs in 1937-38. The birth of the Original Six era is considered to be the 1942-43 season, when the New York/Brooklyn Americans left the NHL. Thus, leaving the league with 6 teams.

Entering the Maple Leafs training camp in 1937, Armstrong was at a disadvantage due to an injured knee. His first NHL game was on December 26, 1937 with the Maple Leafs.


(L) Regis "Pep" Kelly (C) Murray Armstrong (R) Nick Metz - October 1937

While in the Toronto organization, most of his playing time was with the Syracuse Stars of the IAHL (International-American Hockey League). In total, he played 12 games for the Leafs, recording 1 point on an assist. On May 18, 1939 he was traded to the New York Americans.

The trade to New York rejuvenated Armstrong's career at the NHL level. He scored 32 goals over 3 seasons with the Americans' franchise. Like many others, his time in the big leagues was interrupted due to World War 11. During his military service, he skated with the Regina Army Cps.

Armstrong returned to the National Hockey League in 1943-44 with the Detroit Red Wings. This would be his final stop once the '45-46 season came to a conclusion. As a Leaf, American and Red Wing, he scored 67 goals and 121 assists for 188 points in 270 games.

Murray Armstrong's coaching career began in 1947-48 with the Regina Pats. Following his assignment in Junior hockey, his next adventure would be his most rewarding in the game of hockey.

In 1956 Armstrong joined the University of Denver Pioneers. He guided them to 5 NCAA Championships. The 1960-61 Pioneers are considered one of the greatest teams in NCAA history. Their record tells it all, 30-1-1. Also, in 1960, Armstrong's club defeated the eventual winners of Olympic gold at Squaw Valley in California. They defeated the American National squad 7-5. His efforts to develop hockey at the Collegiate level in the United States didn't go unrecognized. In 1977,  Armstrong was the recipient of the Lester Patrick Trophy for his contributions to American hockey.

Commenting on his tenure in Denver, Armstrong said he was most proud of "all the fine young men" he coached. A grad of Denver University currently playing for the Leafs is Tyler Bozak. Although he never played for coach Armstrong, Bozak described him to me as being an "icon".

Armstrong retired to Florida in 1977 and pursued his love of golf. In February of 2008 he sent me a note stating in part "I can't see very well, still golf a lot and lose a lot of balls." Even with diminished eyesight he wouldn't abandon his passion - to quote a " Murray-i-s-m" - "Excuses are for losers."

Murray Alexander Armstrong was born on January 1, 1916 in Manor, Saskatchewan.

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