MONTREAL – If 12-year-old Colby Armstrong could have glanced into a crystal ball to see where he would wind up 17 years later, he would have been the happiest sixth-grader in Saskatoon.
Two days after being bought out by the Toronto Maple Leafs this summer, Armstrong turned his disappointment into excitement by signing a one-year deal with his childhood team. Ready to put the past two injury-riddled seasons behind him and make the most of his fresh start in Montreal, the gritty forward couldn’t wait to hit the ice for the first time as a Hab…even if it wasn’t exactly at the Bell Centre.
“It was so Canadian to go skating at the mall – like, of course they have an indoor skating rink in a mall here,” joked Armstrong following an on-ice photoshoot and impromptu skating session with a few dozen fans at the Atrium at 1000 de La Gauchetiere. “I’ve never really done that before, especially not in my full gear. It was cool to be able to skate around with some fans and get to meet them in a smaller setting. Everyone was really nice to me and it was fun to be able to work on my French a little bit with some of them.
“I grew up a Habs fan so it’s a bit of a surreal experience to be in Montreal wearing that jersey,” he admitted. “It’s definitely something I’m excited about doing for real; I can’t wait to get on the ice for training camp.”
In addition to learning a new system and signing autographs in his second language, the 29-year-old winger may need to spend a little time this offseason prepping his talking points for some pending first impressions.
“I actually don’t know many of the guys here personally. I know [Josh] Gorges through my brother [Riley] who was his roommate in the minors with San Jose and I played with [Tomas] Kaberle in Toronto,” explained Armstrong, who also got to know Habs GM Marc Bergevin when the two were both playing for the Penguins organization in 2002-03.
“Any time you meet hockey guys, they’re always so welcoming. We’ve all kind of been through the same things and everyone has been the new guy in the room once in their career,” he shared. “It’s going to be a good experience and I’m just looking forward to getting to know the guys and the staff and everyone here in the organization. I’m excited to get going.”
He may still have a few first-day-of-school butterflies to contend with come September, but at least he’s already gotten a few key firsts out of the way ahead of time.
“I was actually pretty nervous in the car on my way over here to tell you the truth,” admitted the eight-year NHL veteran. “This was my first real public appearance as a member of the Montreal Canadiens. That’s a pretty big deal, to go out in Montreal and represent the Habs. And it was pretty cool for kids to come up to me with their Canadiens T-shirts and jerseys and ask me to sign the crest. That’s actually the first time I’ve signed anything with the logo on it.”
It won’t be the last, either. Already a fan favorite before he’s even set foot on Bell Centre ice, Armstrong knows if he ever needs help acclimating to his new city, he’s got plenty of backup available at his fingertips.
“The best advice and suggestions I’ve gotten have actually come from the fans here on Twitter,” mentioned @armdog, who has over 120,000 followers. “They’ve sent me everything from where to get the best poutine and smoked meat to tips and ideas for places to check out when I’m in town. So far they’ve been right about pretty much everything.
“I love this city. It’s got so much character and history and it’s just a cool place to live,” he added. “It’s always been one of my favorite cities to visit on the road; I can’t wait to play 41 games a year here.”
Shauna Denis is a writer for canadiens.com
Colby's First Day
Weekly Quiz - August 11
Battle of the masks - 2000-12
Brossard 2012 Games
Galchenyuk gets needed game action at camp