DU Legend Murray Armstrong Passes Away

(above) DU legends Keith Magnuson and Murray Armstrong

Sources: DU Penrose Library, DU Hockey Alumni Association

Legendary University of Denver hockey coach Murray Armstrong passed away peacefully in his sleep on Wednesday.

Born on New Years Day 1916 in Regina, Saskatchewan, Murray would play in the NHL (Toronto, New York Americans, Detroit) before becoming one of the greatest college hockey coaches in history, amassing five National Championships at the University of Denver.

With the arrival of Armstrong in 1956, the University of Denver Ice Hockey Program began an era of unprecedented success. The man often referred to as “The Chief” came to Denver after a stint as the head coach of the Regina Pats junior team in Canada. The relationship with the Pats would serve him well as he repeatedly made recruiting trips to Canada to reload the Pioneers during the offseasons.

Murray saw the potential for championships at Denver. Not only were the facilities there but the citywide support as well. He wanted to see his Pioneers win the national title within three years but they won the championship in just two. Armstrong went on to lead the Pioneers to five national championships (1958, 1960, 1961, 1968 and 1969). On four other occasions his teams finished as the runners-up. His 11 Frozen Four appearances and eight WCHA regular season championships will withstand the test of time. In 1977 Armstrong retired but he had established a tradition of excellence that lives on to this day.

Under Armstrong's watchful eyes, the Pioneers hosted several high-profile international opponents at the DU Ice Arena. Denver tied the Soviet Union National Team 4-4 during the 1958-1959 season and beat the American National Team with a score of 7-5 in 1960. That same American National Team won the gold medal at the Winter Olympics that year. The 1960-1961 Pioneers team is widely regarded as one of the finest collegiate hockey team ever assembled. They finished with an incredible 30-1-1 record on their way to another NCAA Championship.

The Pioneers won another two NCAA Championships in 1968 and 1969. During those golden years some outstanding players wore the Crimson and Gold, including George Kirkwood, Bill Masterton, Jerry Walker, Marty Howe, Grant Munro, Keith Magnuson, Cliff Koroll, Craig Patrick, Jim Wiste, Jim Shires, Gerry Powers and Marshall Johnson.

Murray retired to Florida in 1977 and played golf well into his Nineties.

Murray Armstrong 1916-2010

In accordance with Murray’s request, there will be no funeral services. His family plans to scatter his ashes on his home golf course according to his wishes. Any of the hockey fraternity that wants to send a card or note to Murray’s wife/family can do so at 607 Mulligan Way, St. Augustine, FL 32080.

ST. AUGUSTINE, FL (December 8, 2010) -- Legendary DU hockey coach, Murray Armstrong, has died of complications, following a series of strokes. He was 94, just 24 days shy of his 95th birthday.

Armstrong coached the DU Pioneers from 1956 until 1977, amassing one of the most impressive records in college hockey history. His teams won five NCAA Championships and finished as runners-up four times.

After playing junior hockey, he played 9 years in the National Hockey League in the 1930s and 40s, finishing his career with the Detroit Red Wings. After World War II he then coached the Regina Pats until he was hired by the University of Denver.

When he arrived he promised to give DU a national championship in three years or he’d quit. He delivered on the promise in only two years.

Armstrong often said his proudest accomplishment was “all of the fine young men” whose lives he touched. He was in contact with many of his former players to the end.

In 2009, his former players created a book of “Murray-isms” – some of his sayings that live on. They called it “Don’t Think, It Weakens the Club.” Among his favorite sayings: “Excuses are for losers.”

He retired to Venice, Florida in 1977 where he pursued his other sporting passion – golf. He played the game regularly until 2010 when he was 94.

In 2000, he and his wife moved to St. Augustine, Florida, to be closer to his son and his wife.

Armstrong is survived by Freda, his wife of 68 years, and his son, Rob.

Memorial donations should be directed to: Community Hospice Foundation, 4266 Sunbeam Road, Jacksonville, Florida 32257.


msbdu said...

When I was a student at DU, I had the priviledge of meeting The Coach and talking with him. What a class gentleman. You can trace all of our successes in the sport back to him. We will miss you Coach.

dggoddard said...

Best wishes to the Armstrong Family.

Murray will never be forgotten at DU. His accomplishments will forever be a barometer that future Pioneer teams, players and coaches will be measured against

Aluuum said...

As a student ,I would say hi to Murry and he would always stop and talk to you, ask how you were doing in class etc. he was genuinely interested and didn't rush the conversation. I salute the Chief!

du78 said...

Truly a sad day for the Pioneer family. I had the pleasure of knowing Murray very well as I was associated with the team his last years at DU. Hail to the Chief!!!

Runninwiththedogs said...

What a loss for the hockey community, but what a long, full life he led. We could all wish to be even half as fortunate. Godspeed, Coach.

dggoddard said...

UAA better watch out on Friday. The Chief is going to be coaching his first game from the Skybox.

puck swami said...

We should all be so lucky to live 93 years, have a great family and a life of sensational accomplishment that touched so many lives around North America in a positve way.

Murray Armstrong built our program for many years into legendary staus, and we successors to his legacy are all proud to bask in the amazing glow of what he created.

Stick Salute.

du78 said...

Friday night in the skybox will be Murray, Maggie, Morrison, Masterton, Ottenbreit and Jimbo.

Anonymous said...

Great port, du78. Condolences to the Armstrong family and the DU community

old pio said...

DU fans and alumni are feeling the way folks did at UCLA when they lost Coach Wooden or the way they felt in Tuscaloosa when the Bear passed from the scene. The Chief was more than just our hockey coach. And his life was more than just those enormous successes on the ice. If he wasn't in a class by himself (as Bum Phillips said) it didn't take them long to call the roll.

Ted said...

Sad news. May Coach Armstrong rest in peace, and condolences to his family.

Anonymous said...

The DU press release today quotes Gwoz, Frank Serratorre, Ralph Backstrom and Marshall Johnston - all reamining living Pioneer coahes or Murray's Legacy.

DU SID Erich Bacher did a great job on it.


dggoddard said...

Thanks for the "heads up" on Bacher's article. I linked it above.

vizoroo said...

I was just a student with no personal contact with Coach Armstrong, but we all knew he was something special. But when I see the picture of his statue, I wonder why he isnt wearing his fedora. In my years at DU, all my memories are of fedora wearing Murray Armstrong behind the bench.

The Chief is in the Skybox.

dusince59 said...

I named my first son after Murray. He was and is a true gentleman.

DJ Powers said...

I never met Murray, but in a way I felt like I knew him a bit through all of the many, many recollections that some of his former players shared with me that I've been able to share with you all here at Let's Go DU in my Snoopy Tournament coverage. It's a great loss to not only the DU family but to the college hockey family. Thanks for the memories.

FYI, the DU took last year off from the Snoopy Tournament due to prior commitments by many of the players, but the team should hopefully be returning this year. If they do, I'll try and put a story together for you all on the players remembering Murray and his legacy.

du78 said...

DJ looking forward to your article this summer.

One of my lasting memories of Murray occurred one day before practice in the old DU barn. It was in Murray's last year. I happened to be down by the locker room a few hours before practice and in walk Keith Magnuson and Bobby Orr. The Black Hawks were in town for a few days and Keith came looking for Murray. Bobby had nothing else to do and tagged along with Keith. Murray had not arrived at the rink yet so I spent 15 or so minutes talking with these two legends. I probably stammered my way through the conversation but they were gracious and cordial. Murray showed up and Keith and he started talking and I was "stuck" talking to Bobby for the next 45 minutes. I guess I finally relaxed and had a nice conversation with Bobby about hockey, beer, etc. He told me that he thought he drank the Coors brewery dry the previous night. One of the days I will never forget and you could see how the Chief loved to see a former player succeed in life like it was one of his kids.

dggoddard said...

du78 drops the "Bobby Orr Card." Very impressive :-)