AHL Team To Honor Murray Armstrong

(above) 75 years ago former DU coach Murray Armstrong was the leading scorer in the AHL playoffs

From: Syracuse.com
by Tom Kirst

The young players on the Syracuse Crunch hockey team are preparing for a new season. Their time here offers a chance to prove they are worthy of the National Hockey League. Few envision this city as a place that might alter their lives in a deeper way.

Take it from Freda Armstrong: You never know.

The American Hockey League, which includes the Crunch, is about to celebrate its 75th anniversary. Freda is a living bridge to the beginning. In 1936, Syracuse was among a handful of cities in the original AHL. The team, known as the Stars, won the first championship, still the only league title in city history. The leading scorer in the playoffs was Murray Armstrong, who handled the puck for Syracuse with memorable grace.

At 94, Murray is the last surviving Star. Yet Syracuse has a meaning for him that transcends hockey. He used to go into a downtown five and dime with his buddies. A young woman with a job in a nearby loan company found the nerve to strike up a conversation. She was accompanied by a co-worker. Murray perked up when he saw the friend. He asked her to go dancing at the Hotel Syracuse.

They clicked. Sixty-eight years ago, he married the former Freda Hosler.

“That was a very nice time in our lives,” she said this week, from the couple’s home in Florida.

Rob Armstrong, their only child, understands the against-the-odds magic of that romance. Rare enough that a player on any minor league team ends up marrying someone from the local community. Not only did the leading playoff scorer on the first AHL champion fall in love with a young woman from the North Side, they’re both around to remember it all these years later.

“Syracuse,” Rob said, “played a major role for our family.”

During his childhood, he would spend summers with his grandmother, in her Briggs Street home. He often visited a pharmacy called Hosler’s, owned by an uncle. He also watched television for the first time in Syracuse. That’s significant, because Rob went on to become an award-winning radio and television correspondent for CBS. At 61, he teaches at Flagler College in Florida, where he stays in close touch with his parents.

“They’re fiercely independent,” said Rob, whose dad spent parts of three seasons in Syracuse, later played for several seasons in the NHL, and eventually became a coaching legend at the University of Denver. Murray led the school to five NCAA championships. When he retired, they built a statue of him on campus. He and Freda settled in Florida, where they had plenty of time for their beloved golf.

The Crunch would like to bring them to Syracuse for the team’s Oct. 9 home opener. Freda said that will be impossible. Two months ago, her husband had a stroke. He is not in any condition to travel, and Freda’s energy is focused on Murray.

“I’m not too sad,” she said, “because we’ve had a wonderful life.”

She was raised in a German-American neighborhood in Syracuse. She attended Webster Elementary School and the old North High School, and she had scant interest in hockey until she met Murray. Their wedding reception was at a downtown restaurant. In an interview 16 years ago, Murray said that marrying Freda “was the best move I ever made.”

As the decades rolled by, the couple stayed in touch with a few teammates from Syracuse. In 1996, the Crunch brought back George “Cannonball” Parsons, another fine player on the 1937-37 league champion. While a sellout crowd applauded, Parsons went to center ice at the War Memorial. The team rolled down a banner from the rafters to honor the old Stars.

Parsons died in 1998. Murray is the last surviving member of the title-winning team, and his health will not allow him to be at next month’s opener. As for Freda, she is pleased to know the Crunch is even aware of her husband. Club officials say the players will open the season in throwback jerseys, in the fashion of the Stars, thus honoring the first champions of the AHL.

“Lovely,” said Freda, whose marriage joins a city and a sport, as family.


vizoroo said...

Freda and Murray Armstrong are a class act.
Sorry to hear about Murray's stroke.

Anonymous said...

Great article.

I, too, was unaware that Murray had a stroke. He is truly a living legend...

msbdu said...

I was fortunate to attend DU when the "Chief" was the head coach. I remember watching him, arms folded, cool as a cucumber standing behind the bench. He had a look that I think the players understood when they were not performing up to his expectations.

Anonymous said...

I also attended DU games when Murray was the Coach. He was very kind to me and my family. Sure hope he recovers and gets back on the golf course. He is DU Hockey.

Anonymous said...

Hold on here......... CC SUCKS!

du78 said...

I got an e-mail last week saying that Murray had suffered two minor strokes. How long it will take him to recover is unknown as he is 93.