George Edward "Chief" Armstrong - Born July 6, 1930 in Skead, Ontario - Died January 24, 2021 in Toronto, Ontario was a Canadian Indigenous (Ojibwe) ice Hockey right winger, scout and coach.
While attending Sudbury High School, Armstrong played on the Hockey team with Red McCarthy and Tim Horton. Inspired by a newspaper advertisement offering tryouts with the Copper Cliff Redmen of the Northern Ontario Junior Hockey Association (NOJHA), Armstrong convinced Horton and McCarthy to join him in trying out. They made the team and Armstrong began his junior Hockey career at age 16 in the 1946–47 season. He recorded six goals and five assists in nine games and caught the attention of scouts for the National Hockey League / NHL's Toronto Maple Leafs who added him to their protected list. He also played with the Prince Albert Blackhawks for part of that season.
Armstrong quit school in grade 11 to focus on his Hockey career.
The Maple Leafs placed Armstrong on the Stratford Kroehlers in the Ontario Hockey Association (OHA) junior division for the 1947–48 season. He led the league in both assists (43) and points (73), and was named recipient of the Red Tilson Trophy as the OHA's most valuable player. Promoted to the Toronto Marlboros for the 1948–49 season, Armstrong recorded 62 points in 39 games with the junior squad and played in three regular season and ten post-season matches for the senior team. Armstrong remained with the senior Marlboros in 1949–50 where he served as captain. He led the OHA senior division with 64 goals, at the time an OHA record, and recorded 115 points in 39 games. He was again named the winner of the Red Tilson Trophy.
The Maple Leafs briefly recalled Armstrong during the 1949–50 season and he made his NHL debut on December 3, 1949 vs the New York Rangers at Maple Leaf Gardens. He appeared in two games before returning to the Marlboros. In the 1950 Allan Cup playdowns, he recorded 19 goals and 19 assists in 14 games as the Marlboros won the Allan Cup championship. It was also during the season that he earned his nickname. While visiting the Stoney Reserve in Alberta with the Marlboros, the locals presented Armstrong with a ceremonial headdress and called him "Big Chief Shoot the Puck" owing to his own Native heritage. The nickname was often shortened to "Chief"
He played the majority of his first two pro seasons with the Maple Leafs' AHL farm team the Pittsburgh Hornets before making the big club for good at the start of the 1952-53 season.
In 71 games for Pittsburgh during the 1950-51 season, he recorded 15 goals and 48 points. Despite being hampered by hand and wrist injuries suffered in fights. Armstrong was the AHL's leading goal scorer and stood second in points by mid-season in 1951–52 (30 goals, 29 assists). He was recalled to Toronto during the season and scored his first NHL goal on February 9 at the Montreal Forum, against goaltender Gerry McNeil of the Montreal Canadiens. He was the fifth player with Native heritage to score a NHL goal (Taffey Abel (1st), Henry Maracle (2nd), Joe Benoit (3rd), Johnny Harms (4th). He finished the season with three goals and three assists in 20 games with Toronto.
Armstrong was never a great skater but was rarely out of position; he knew how to play the angles on the opposing forwards and was a great corner man in the offensive zone. He never attained the scoring heights in the NHL as he had in his junior and senior days but Armstrong brought determination, leadership, and humour to a Maple Leafs squad that was trying to escape the shadow of the Barilko tragedy in the early 1950s.
Though he missed the start of the 1952–53 season due to a separated shoulder, Armstrong earned a permanent spot on the Maple Leafs' roster. He quietly established himself as an important contributor for Toronto by recording 25 points that season, then scoring 32 points the following season and 28 in 1954–55. A 48-point season in 1955–56 was second on the team to Tod Sloan's 66. Armstrong then led the Maple Leafs in scoring with 44 points in 1956–57 despite missing 14 of his team's games. He was named to play in the NHL All-Star Game in both seasons. They were the first two of seven he would ultimately play.
The Maple Leafs named Armstrong the team's captain in 1957–58 as he succeeded Ted Kennedy and Jim Thomson who served as co-captains the season before. He finished fourth in team scoring with 42 points, then played his third All-Star Game during the 1958–59 season. He recorded four assists in the playoffs as the Maple Leafs reached the 1959 Stanley Cup Final, but lost to the Montreal Canadiens. With 51 points in 1959–60, Armstrong finished one point behind Bob Pulford for the team lead. Toronto again reached the Stanley Cup Final where they were again eliminated by Montreal.
The Maple Leafs finally reached the NHL's peak two seasons later. Armstrong set a career high with 53 points in the 1961–62 regular season, then added 12 points in 12 playoff games for Toronto. He started the play that resulted in the Stanley Cup clinching goal, rushing the puck up ice before passing to Tim Horton, who then passed to goal-scorer Dick Duff that capped off a 2–1 victory in the sixth and deciding game of the series against the Chicago Black Hawks.
As Maple Leafs captain, Armstrong was presented the Stanley Cup by league president Clarence Campbell, thus marking the first time that a player with Native heritage, hoisted the Stanley Cup first as team captain. It was the first of three consecutive championships for Toronto as the Maple Leafs of 1962–1964 became the fourth dynasty in NHL history. Individually, Armstrong scored 21, 19 and 20 goals over the three seasons and by virtue of the NHL's All-Star Game format of the time that had the defending champion play the all-stars of the remaining teams, appeared in his fourth, fifth and sixth All-Star Games.
Early in the 1963–64 season, on December 1, 1963, Armstrong scored his 200th career NHL goal.
A 37-point season followed in 1964–65, then 51 points the 1965–66 season. By 1966–67, Armstrong led an aging Maple Leafs team that entered the playoffs as an underdog against a dominant Chicago team. The Maple leafs nonetheless eliminated the Black Hawks in six games to set up the 1967 Stanley Cup Final against Montreal. The Canadiens were so confident of victory that a display area for the Stanley Cup had been set up at the Quebec pavilion at Expo 67 prior to the series' start. The Maple Leafs dashed Montreal's hopes by winning the championship in six games. Armstrong scored the final goal of the series in a 3–1 victory in the deciding contest. It was also the last goal scored in the NHL's "Original Six" era as the league was set to double in size to 12 teams for the 1967–68 season.
Armstrong announced his intention to retire as a player following the championship but changed his mind and returned for another season. The Maple Leafs placed him on their protected list for the 1967 Expansion Draft, and he remained with Toronto. He played in his seventh All-Star Game in 1968 and finished the season with 34 points. Retiring following the season before changing his mind became an annual event for Armstrong as he announced his intention to leave the game in five straight years. He remained a consistent scorer for Toronto, recording 27, 28 and 25 points in his following three seasons.
Armstrong finally ended his playing career after the 1970–71 season to take an office position in the Maple Leafs.
Armstrong was announced as the head coach of his former junior team, the Toronto Marlboros, in July 1972. Though he had preferred his previous role as a scout to coaching, Armstrong led the Marlboros to Memorial Cup victories on two occasions: in 1973 and 1975.
In 1977, Armstrong's name circulated as a possible successor to Maple Leafs coach Red Kelly when the latter was fired by the team. When approached by the organization with the prospect of assuming head coaching duties however, Armstrong rejected the possibility. His decision resulted in animosity from within the organization and subsequently led to his resignation as coach of the Marlboros that season to accept a scouting post with the Quebec Nordiques.
Some 10 years later, Armstrong returned to the Maple Leafs organization in the dual capacities of assistant general manager and scout. During the 1988–89 season, and after management had fired head coach John Brophy, team owner Harold Ballard was adamant that Armstrong be named Brophy's replacement. Armstrong agreed to take the position, but increasingly delegated majority of his duties to assistant coach Garry Lariviere. The Maple Leafs finished with 17 wins in 47 Armstrong's games coached. He was replaced by Doug Carpenter the following season and returned to his scouting capacities with the team.
A consummate leader, Armstrong was lauded by owner Conn Smythe as "the best captain, as a captain, the Leafs have ever had".
His 713 career points were the second most all-time in Toronto franchise history at the time of his retirement. His 1,187 NHL games are the most by any player in Toronto history, and he remains the franchise leader with 417 career assists and 713 points by a right wing.
The Maple Leafs named him the co-recipient, with Bob Pulford, of the J. P. Bickell Memorial Award in 1959. The award is presented to members of the organization who perform with a high standard of excellence.
In 1998, the Maple Leafs honoured his uniform number 10, and later officially retired the number, along with ten others, during a pre-game ceremony on October 15, 2016.
Armstrong was recognized by the NHL for his charitable efforts in 1969 when he was named the inaugural recipient of the Charlie Conacher Humanitarian Award.
Proud of his Native heritage, Armstrong often supported programs organized by both Indian and Northern Affairs and non-governmental agencies that aimed to promote positive role models for Native children.
George Armstrong was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1975.
George Armstrong was inducted into the Ontario Sports Hall of Fame in 2010.
- Red Tilson Trophy Winner 1948 & 1950.
- Allan Cup Champion 1950
- F. G. "Teddy" Oke Trophy Champion 1951-52
- Calder Cup Champion 1952 (on team photo, but played for Toronto during playoffs)
- Stanley Cup Champion 1962, 1963, 1964, 1967.
- J. Ross Robertson Cup Champion as coach of Toronto Marlboros 1973, 1975.
- Memorial Cup Champion as coach of Toronto Marlboros 1973, 1975.