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Armstrong remembered as 'great captain' by Maple Leafs stars Keon, Clark

Toronto legend dies at 90, won Stanley Cup four times in 21 seasons

by Dave Stubbs @Dave_Stubbs / NHL.com Columnist

Dave Keon is among many who are mourning the loss of George Armstrong, his fellow Toronto Maple Leafs legend who died Sunday at age 90.

"George was a great captain, a great friend, a great teammate and a great linemate. We played together for almost nine years," Keon said from his home in Florida. "He led by example. He worked hard and was very responsible. When the puck came around the boards in our end, he always got it out."

Keon pointed out that Armstrong, in 2016 voted No. 12 on the list of the greatest 100 players in Maple Leafs history, is the last Toronto player to carry the Stanley Cup off the ice following a championship. That came on May 2, 1967 at Maple Leaf Gardens after a 3-1 win in Game 6 of the Stanley Cup Final against the heavily favored Montreal Canadiens.

"And George was the last Leaf to score a Stanley Cup Final goal," Keon said, Armstrong hitting the empty Canadiens net from center ice with the insurance goal, 27 seconds left on the clock.

"George would joke that he couldn't skate," Keon said, laughing. "Then he'd say, 'But nobody's ever caught me on a breakaway.'"

Former Maple Leafs captains (l-r) George Armstrong, Darryl Sittler and Wendel Clark, a photo shared by Sittler from his collection.

 

"George carried himself with a confidence," said Wendel Clark, who was captain of the Maple Leafs from 1991-94. "It didn't matter how good a player was, if he was in a small group, he was 'The Chief' and he commanded the room.

"It wasn't because he was the best player, that was his personality. You can see why he was a captain of that team. He wasn't an all-nighter guy, he didn't want to do anything in public and big functions or anything like that. Chief did want to be a part of that but was most comfortable in a room of 20 guys. And it's like he controlled the room. He just had that personality and you could see why he was a leader of that group."

George Armstrong in the late 1940s as a member of the major-junior Toronto Marlboros before he joined the Toronto Maple Leafs.

 

Clark called Armstrong, who won the Stanley Cup four times in 21 seasons with the Maple Leafs, "probably one of the most honest, forthright people, shooting from the hip. He wouldn't have to get into all the technology of today's world. He was a great judge of people without that. 

"I always think about how he and (late goalie) Johnny [Bower] were roommates in the day. Two opposite personalities who got along so well. Johnny was so outgoing and always in the public eye. Chief didn't like the public stuff, but he held people accountable on those teams. When the chips were down, he would produce. And he would tell people what they had to do. He just willed his teams to win, and people followed him."

George Armstrong and actor Art Hindle, friends from the 1971 film "Face-Off," at a 2017 reunion of the Armstrong-coached 1973 Memorial Cup championship team. Between them is Armstrong in a scene from the film.

 

Armstrong had a significant role in the 1971 hockey movie "Face-Off," starring actor Art Hindle as Maple Leafs rookie Billy Duke, the late John Vernon (best known as Dean Wormer in "Animal House") as Toronto coach Fred Wares and featuring cameos by Boston Bruins star Derek Sanderson and many NHL players.

"I was a big Leafs fan before I ever did the film," Hindle said Sunday after learning of Armstrong's death. "When you do films with real guys in their line of work, sometimes they can get a little resentful. 

"Not George. He took me under his wing, like he does with my character Billy Duke in the movie, and he made me feel comfortable and right at home. His stature in the Leafs organization meant a tremendous amount and it made everything I did from then on very easy. We became good friends from the outset."

In one scene, Armstrong sits with Duke over a beer at tavern, offering a few words of wisdom that will serve the latter well during his maiden season. Hindle laughed about the line Armstrong delivers to a tavern regular on the way out the door, after having told the old-timer that he had the hot-shot Duke along only "to carry my skates."

George Armstrong in scenes from the 1971 film "Face-Off."

 

"George wrote the line himself," Hindle said. "The old guy tells George that he hopes he has a 50-goal season and George replies, 'Twenty goals will do me, old-timer. If I scored 50 this year, they'd want me to score 50 again next year.'"

Hindle remembered Armstrong's influence before "Face-Off" production began, having taken a road trip to Philadelphia with the Maple Leafs for research purposes.

A handful of players and Hindle wound up at a bar after the game, then led by Toronto forward Jim McKenny, a friend of Hindle's, headed off to the home of Flyers goalie Doug Favell -- after the team's 1 a.m. curfew.

"I said to Jim, 'What if (coach John) McLellan checks up on us?' and he said, 'George is my roommate. He's not going to say anything.' George was the Maple Leafs captain of everything except punishment."

NHL.com staff writer Mike Zeisberger contributed to this report

Photos: HHoF Images / Darryl Sittler / Paul Patskou

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