Friday, December 10, 2010

Two Year-Old Article Sums Up Murray Armstrong

(above) Legendary DU hockey coach Murray Armstrong out on the links in Florida two years ago

Note: This article appeared in the St. Augustine Record in 2008


Murray Armstrong is 92, but you wouldn't know it by his schedule. Every Monday he plays golf at St. Augustine Shores. Wednesday, more golf. Saturday? Another round.

"I can't see very good," he said. "And that bothers me when I am putting. But excuses are for losers."

Spoken like a true national champion. As much as Armstrong loves golf, he can't hide the hockey coach in him.

When the seniors who play with Armstrong on Mondays and Wednesdays tee it up with Armstrong, many of them may not know that they are playing with a former National Hockey League player who went on to coach at the University of Denver from 1956 to 1977, where he led the Pioneers to 11 Frozen Fours (the hockey version of the Final Four) and five national titles.

Armstrong is considered one of the great coaches in college hockey history. He was enshrined in the Colorado Sports Hall of Fame in 1974. In 1977, he was awarded the Lester Patrick Trophy, given by the NHL and U.S. Hockey for significant contributions to hockey in the United States.

"I was a much better coach than I was player," Armstrong said dryly.

Armstrong played in rough-and-tumble NHL of the 1930s, where protective helmets and multi-million dollar contracts were things of the very distant future.

"We didn't make any money then," Armstrong said. "I made $3,000 in the 1938-39 season. The next year, I finished eighth in the league in scoring and got a raise to $4,500. Boy, I thought I had the world by the tail."

Armstrong happily told his story from his tidy St. Augustine Shores condo that overlooked a small pond and the golf course. Armstrong and his Freda, his wife of nearly 66 years, have been here for eight years. He is content, clearly enjoying his golf-obsessed life.

"I've always played at private clubs," he said. "But I love it here (at Shores)."

There are no monuments to Armstrong's hockey accomplishments in the house. He believes his son, Rob, is the star of the family. Rob Armstrong has written five books, including three on golf in Ireland. Now retired, he was an award-winning commentator at CBS and now teaches communications twice a week at Flagler College.

The dedication on Rob Armstrong's book, Golfing in Ireland, reads: "To my mother and father, Freda and Murray Armstrong, for all their love and for teaching me the game."

In fact, Armstrong delights also in the success of his former players. Although it's been over half a century since he coached some of them, several still call him regularly.

"I took good boys," he said. "In all my years, we never once had to go to the police."

Jovial as Armstrong is, his voice took on an icy edge when the conversation turned to coaching philosophy.

"I never let them be smart alecks," he said. "If they scored a goal, I told them to take it in stride. Don't celebrate."

Armstrong relied on a valuable lesson he learned from his playing days.

"I saw so many coaches go on a road trip and cheat on their wives," he said. "I thought, 'If he'd cheat on his wife, he'd cheat on anybody.' I never smoked, drank or cheated on my wife. And my players respected me for it."

As if on cue, Freda, Armstrong's wife shuffled into the kitchen. She caught Armstrong's eye and smiled. They still laugh and joke like they fell in love yesterday. Quickly, the conversation turned from hockey to Armstrong's greater passions: his wife and golf.

Freda is 94 and still plays nine holes with him every Saturday.

"My wife used to be good golfer," he said. "But now she's as bad as me."

She wasn't to be outdone.

"We like to get out there," she said. "But I don't think you can call what we do 'golf' anymore. We need another name."

2 comments:

du78 said...

That picture is the only time I have ever seen Murray with jeans on. He was always impeccably dressed. Suit on game days with his legendary fedora. At practice he wore heavy woolen slacks over shin pads that may have been from his playing days. He had his varsity jacket on and the whistle dangling from his neck. Casual clothes for him were slacks and a nice collared shirt.

old pio said...

And what a great hat!