“This kid’s got everything,” King Clancy, the Maple Leafs’ former star defenseman, was quoted as saying at the time. “He has size, speed, and he can shoot ’em into the net better that any hockey player I’ve known in a long time.”
Clancy, who became the Leafs’ coach in 1953 and was later elected to the Hall of Fame, helped oversee Armstrong’s development. Playing at right wing and sometimes at center, Armstrong wasn’t an especially flashy player or a fast skater, and he had only four seasons in which he scored 20 or more goals. But he garnered 296 career goals and 417 assists.
He was adept in beating opponents to the puck in the corners, then setting up teammates for a goal. He delivered timely checks and played a full 70-game regular season four times.
“I always respected George on the ice when I played against him,” Armstrong’s former teammate Paul Henderson recalled in his memoir, “The Goal of My Life” (2012, with Roger Lajoie). “When I got to Toronto, though, I was impressed to discover just how competitive he was. He sure came to play every night and had no patience for those players who didn’t.”
George Edward Armstrong was born on July 6, 1930, in Bowland’s Bay, outside Sudbury, in northern Ontario. His father, who was of Irish descent, worked in the area’s nickel mines.
When he was captain of a bantam hockey team that won a district title, Armstrong was thrilled to receive the championship trophy from the Leafs’ center Syl Apps, a future Hall of Famer.
He quit school in 1946, when he became the property of the Leafs, and played in their minor-league system before appearing in two games with the team in the 1949-50 season. He was back in the minors after that until joining the Leafs to stay.