'He was kind of a hero to me': George Armstrong's storied career included a memorable season in Stratford
The last Toronto Maple Leafs’ captain to hoist the Stanley Cup spent a memorable season in Stratford before embarking on a storied NHL career that spanned 21 years.
George Armstrong died Sunday at the age of 90, but his time with the city’s junior team in 1947-48 isn’t forgotten by those who watched him play.
“He was amazing,” Bob White said. “He led the league in scoring and was a great player. Stratford didn’t have all that good of a team that year, but he did (well).”
Armstrong joined the Kroehlers as a 17-year-old from Skead, Ont. He won the Red Tilson Trophy as the Ontario Hockey Association’s Most Valuable Player after scoring 33 goals and adding 40 assists in 36 games.
White, now 85 and living in Michigan, was five years younger than Armstrong, but he knew the skilled pivot was a special talent.
“He was a big, lanky guy, and he was a terrific skater and played centre, so he was all over the ice,” he said. “He dominated when he was out there. He was just a good, all around hockey player. Great playmaker, had a good shot. There weren’t many guys getting those kinds of goals.”
White said he and other young players in the city looked up to Armstrong.
“Hockey was the only thing we thought about,” he said. “Here’s a guy leading the league and playing terrific hockey, and every time you open the newspaper there’s a story about him. We idolized him as kids. We were all so sorry to see him go.”
Armstrong had already been added to the Leafs’ negotiation list, and Stafford Smythe – son of Toronto team owner Conn – was instrumental in getting Armstrong to the Toronto Marlboros the following season, White said.
“Stratford went into mourning. You can just imagine a guy that good and had that much of an impact on the league, and everybody was trying to keep him in Stratford … but they moved him out, and there was nothing anybody could do about it.”
White, who went on to have his own decorated hockey career that included a bronze medal representing Canada at the 1956 Winter Olympics, said he likely spoke to Armstrong a few times in passing. He remembers Armstrong, who went to Stratford Collegiate Vocational Institute (before it was Central), being a frequent visitor to the Jumbo Ice Cream parlour on Ontario Street.
Armstrong, later nicknamed The Chief, made his NHL debut in 1949 and finished his career with 324 goals and 773 points in 1,298 regular season and playoff games, plus four Stanley Cups, all with the Leafs. He was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1975.
“He was kind of a hero to me,” White said. “I can’t think of anybody who was a bigger star than he was in junior hockey in Stratford.”