When one recalls the Toronto Maple Leaf teams of the 1950’s and 1960’s names like Keon and Mahovlich spring up as their big stars. But also during that period was George Armstrong –one of the steadiest and most reliable Leaf forwards ever, who amassed over 700 points in a 21-year NHL career—13 of them as Leaf captain. Armstrong was a member of four Stanley Cup championship teams and played in seven NHL All-Star Games. He scored the final goal of the NHL’s “Original Six” era as Toronto won the 1967 Stanley Cup. He was also the first indigenous hockey player in the NHL
Born in the Sudbury area to an Irish Canadian father and Ojibway mother, he grew up in Falconbridge, where his father was a nickel miner.
Armstrong played both junior and senior hockey in the Toronto Marlboros organization and was a member of the 1950 Allan Cup winning team as senior champions of Canada. He returned to the Marlboros following his playing career and coached the junior team to two Memorial Cup championships. He served as a scout for the Quebec Nordiques, as an assistant general manager of the Maple Leafs and for part of the 1988–89 NHL season as Toronto’s head coach. Armstrong was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1975 and the Maple Leafs honoured his uniform number 10 in 1998, and later officially retired the number, along with ten others, during a pre-game ceremony on October 15, 2016.
When Armstrong first came to the Maple Leafs, assistant General Manager King Clancy said,”This kid’s got everything. He has size, speed, and he can shoot ’em into the net better that any hockey player I’ve known in a long time. I’ll be surprised if he doesn’t become a superstar.”
The Toronto Maple Leafs described Armstrong as being a “consistent, durable and hardworking” player throughout his 21-season career that spanned parts of four decades. A consummate leader, Armstrong was lauded by owner Conn Smythe as “the best captain, as a captain, the Leafs have ever had
Maple Leaf statement
The Toronto Maple Leafs issued a statement today marking Armstrong’s passing:
The Toronto Maple Leafs mourn the passing today of George Armstrong at age 90. As one of the first players of Indigenous descent to play professional hockey, George first signed with the organization in 1946 and was a member of the Maple Leafs family for 75 years. He distinguished himself as a player, captain, coach, assistant general manager, scout, community ambassador and alumnus.
Skating his entire 21-year NHL career with the Maple Leafs – and 12 as their captain – George helped Toronto capture four Stanley Cups. He was named one of the One Hundred Greatest Maple Leafs of all-time, is an Honoured Member of the Hockey Hall of Fame and has had his number retired by the club in addition to being a hallowed member of Legends Row.
“George is part of the very fabric of the Toronto Maple Leaf organization and will be deeply missed,” said Toronto Maple Leafs President & Alternate Governor Brendan Shanahan. “A proud yet humble man, he loved being a Maple Leaf but never sought the spotlight even though no player played more games for Toronto or captained the team longer. Always one to celebrate his teammates rather than himself, George couldn’t even bring himself to deliver his speech the day he was immortalized on Legends Row.”
In his own words, the final paragraph from George’s unread speech read: “Hockey is a great game and I love it. I am part of a fading generation that you will never have again. Every one of us is one of a kind, that will never be repeated. To all of my friends and acquaintances, thank you for your advice and direction, that helped make me who I am today … a very, very happy person.”
The Toronto Maple Leafs extend their deepest condolences to George’s wife Betty, their children, grandchildren and the entire Armstrong family.