Wednesday, March 24, 2010

MURRAY "THE CHIEF" ARMSTRONG

By: Ron "Scoreboard" Johnston

The son of the local blacksmith, Murray Armstrong was born on New Year's Day, 1916 in Manor, Saskatchewan.

Wil Klein: “I remember Murray Armstrong very well, having spent a good deal of my teenage years shooting pool at the National Billiards on the 1800 block Scarth Street in Regina.”

Murray Armstrong: “It was owned by Jack Farquarson and he sold me half interest in it.”

He and Farquarson, along with Eddie Litzenberger, were awesome pool players as was another senior guy named Joe Young who lost 2 or 3 fingers on one hand but was almost unbeatable at skittles pool. (Photo: by permission of the Denver University)

“The National was the hangout for all local sports teams, visiting hockey teams at junior and senior levels along with visiting CFL teams. That was the place Murray could keep his eyes on the young Pats” stated Wil Klein.

In 1957, after nine successful years at the helm, Coach Murray Armstrong left the Regina Pats for a coaching job at Denver University. He took with him a number of Pat players including John Hudson, Orville Off (team captain for one or two seasons), and Bill “Red” Hay, among others. They build a dynasty in the U.S.A. collegiate hockey circles which is in place to this day.

In a phone interview Murray Armstrong said, '"I am almost blind, I can not see very well, My wife and I golfed since we were married, which will be 68 years on the 21st of March, 2010. I met my wife, Freda, when I was playing professional hockey in the International-American Hockey League with the Syracus Stars during the 1936-37 season." As he said, "That's a long way from Semans, Saskatchewan, its about 130 kilometres north of Regina, neart the village of Manor where I was born. I grew up in Semans." Murray went onto say, "In 1928, I made a vow to myself, that I am not going to smoke and I am not going to drink and I am going to be a National Hockey League player and I was lucky enough that it worked out pretty nice. (Photo: by permission of the Denver University)

“My 21 years coaching career was great at the U of Denver and I had many good boys from Saskatchewan and the Pats. We went to the U.S. Championships Finals 11 times and won 5 Championships. In those 21 years the team won 463, lost 215, and tied 31 games. When I went to Denver University I told the Athletic Director, Mr. E. Wieman, 'I'll give you a National Championship in three years or I will resgin.' I got the National Championship in the second year. I turned down a chance from Muzz Patrick to coach the New York Rangers. I was happy in Denver.”

Will Klein: “Other major universities who were keen on hockey were North Dakota, Fargo-Moorhead, Minnesota, Wisconsin, along with Michigan (coach by a great ex-Pat, Red Berenson) and northeastern colleges followed suit because their teams, manned by U.S. Kids, could not keep up. That, of course, has changed over the years. To this day, Armstrong is considered the guru of them all.” Murray stated, “I grew up in the small town of Semans, Saskatchewan. My father was a blacksmith. They had a closed-in rink. I can remember playing there till I was 12, then we moved to Regina. I started playing in organized hockey.” At 16, he was playing for the Regina Pats under Al Ritchie.

Under Armstrong, the Regina Pats never finished worse than third place. He mastermined the Pat Hockey Club to the Memorial Cup Final in 1949-50, 1951-52, 1954-55 and 1955-56, as well as the Abbot Cup Finalists in 1950-51. Murray played for the Regina Pats 1931-32 to 1934-35 when the club folded.

"When I was 19, I went to the New York Rovers, the farm team of the New York Rangers, with a whole bunch of fellows from Winnipeg, where we had our training camp", said Murray. "I played there with two Patrick boys (Lester and Frank), After that, I was drafted by the Toronto Maple Leafs and belonged to them for three years. I didn't play with them very much with them, but I did play with the Syracuse Stars, the farm team. I played most of the three years I was with them. The last year I stood second or third in the league in scoring, and they never took up for the play-offs. I told them if they didn't get rid of me to a National League team, I was going to retire.That year the National Hockey League decided to put another team in New York, the New York Americans. I played with them in 1939-40. I stood eight in the league in scoring. I did not make much money, $3,000."

In 1942, after three years with the New York Americans, I joined the Canadian army. There was an army hockey team in Regina. I was the play/coach for one year. I went out and got my officer's training and came back. After having an operation on my back in 1941, I had to go to the Mayo Clinic (in Rochester, Minnesota). In 1943, I was released, one year after Freda and I got married in 1942, and I went to the Detroit Red Wings. Played there that year and the next two years.

I would come to Regina in the summertime. After playing for Detroit, I came home in the summer and ran a pool hall part-time. I also sold men's clothing in the province of Saskatchewan for about six years. I then started coaching. After three years with Detroit, I went to Buffalo. We were playing in the minor league, when the coach told me that they have a team in Dallas, Texas that is in the bottom of their section. Would you be good enough to go there to play and coach them for a year?" 'Sure," I said. I took that team from the bottom and we led our section. We lost in the final play-offs. I then stayed in Regina after that and coached the Pats for eight years.

He then went on and played with the New York Americans 1939 to 1942, the Detroit Red Wings form 1943 to 1946 and then became a journeyman. In 1974 Armstrong was inducted into the Colorado Sports Hall of Fame, received the 1976 Denver U.S.A. Citizen by Choice Award and the Lester Patrick Trophy in New York in 1977. In his honor, Denver University commissioned a life-size bronze statue of Armstrong. The sculpture was done by former Pioneers player Steve Landis. (Photo: by permission of the Denver University)

He was inducted into the Saskatchewan Sports Hall of Fame on March 21, 1981.

As of the year 2010, Murray (94), and his wife Freda (97), are living in Venice, Florida, with the back of their house looking onto the golf course. I was talking to Murray at the end of the January, 2010 he mentioned, I go golfing with three of my friends once a week. Freda has autheritis and is not able to get around like she use to".