In 1946 George Armstrong was signed and placed on the protected list of the Toronto Maple Leafs. Twenty-five years later, on April 4th, 1971 he would play his final game.
Between signing with the club and finally hanging up his skates, George would play more seasons… more regular season games… more Playoff games… wear the C for more seasons… and Captain the Leafs to more Stanley Cup victories than any other player… in history.
Born on the 6th of July, 1930, in Bowland’s Bay, Ontario on the shores of Lake Wanapitei, to an Irish father and an Iroquois mother, The Chief would become the first player of aboriginal descent to score in the NHL. Prior to that, he had played for the Junior Marlies and helped the Senior Marlies capture the Allan Cup.
By the age of 23, the Maple Leafs had a feeling as to who was going to lead their team into the future… it was going to be George. So in a time honoured Maple Leafs tradition, a very special number was bestowed upon the young Armstrong. It was the number 10… the number that had most recently belonged to Syl Apps. Out of circulation for the six seasons since his retirement, the three-time Cup winning Captain, passed his number onto George, as Chief’s teammates gathered round. With great privilege, comes great responsibility and George wouldn’t disappoint, wearing the number, worn by Syl Apps in the 40’s and Joe Primeau in the 30’s, for the next 18 years… through the 50’s, 60’s and into the 70’s.
He would Captain the Leafs to Stanley Cups in 1962… 1963… 1964 and 1967, scoring the final goal of the Original Six era in the final game of the historic series.
George remains the last Leafs Captain to have played his entire career in blue and white, becoming fifth highest scorer in team history along the way. Paul Henderson, who joined the Leafs in Armstrong’s 17th season, said of the Chief, “He sure came out to play every night and he had no patience for those players who didn’t.”
Following his 21 season career, George would sign on as the Coach of his old team, the Toronto Marlies, leading them to Memorial Cup victories in 73 and 75. That same year he was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame. He would also serve as Scout, Head Coach and Assistant General Manager of the Maple Leafs, in a career that has now spanned eight decades.
As the country watched, in a 1998 ceremony, his number 10 was hoisted to the rafters of Maple Leaf Gardens.
Of George Armstrong, Conn Smythe would say, “He was the best Captain, as a Captain, the Leafs have ever had.”