August 20, 2015

Bill Armstrong

As the 1990s arrived the Philadelphia Flyers were once high on two prospects both named Bill Armstrong. They were teammates with the Hershey Bears for two seasons, which must have been confusing in that they not only shared the same name, but naturally shared the same nickname - Army.

Unfortunately neither of the two prospects panned out.

The younger Bill Armstrong was a towering and aggressive defenseman out of Richmond Hill, Ontario. He rarely scored goals - only five in three seasons of junior hockey - but, in the last junior game he ever played, famously scored the overtime winning goal in the 1990 Memorial Cup final for Oshawa.

That was the high point in that Bill Armstrong's career. The Flyers would draft him 46th overall in the 1990 NHL Draft. He would go onto play close to a decade in the minor leagues, roughing it up with all comers. But he never did play in the NHL. He later became a top scout.

A year before drafting that Bill Armstrong, the Flyers signed a different Bill Armstrong as an undrafted free agent out of Western Michigan University in 1989. The six-foot-three, 190 pound center had a solid career in the minor leagues but only ever played in one NHL game - picking up an assist.

He was phased out of the Philly organization because of a change of management. Bobby Clarke had signed him as a free agent but was soon thereafter removed as general manager. Russ Farwell took over and began bringing in more kids from Western Canada where Farwell had worked many years. By 1993 Armstrong signed with the New Jersey Devils organization, but never did get to play with the Devils.

Yet he is a hockey legend in his own right as in the minor leagues he became became famous for inventing the "lacrosse-style" goal.

"As a pro, you're on the ice a lot. I learned to pick up the puck pretty well on my stick. It was almost second nature. Anyway, I originally would pick it up coming down the wing in stride, spin around and throw it over my shoulder, like a lacrosse shot. One day, I was standing behind the net, picked it up and put it in the top corner. I thought, 'Jeez, that might be something I could actually use in a game.'"

"In Albany, I scored four goals with the move. The fans there got to know it because they ran a piece on local television. So I would get behind the net -- maybe only 3,000 people are in the building -- and I'd hear the fans yelling, 'Do it! Do it!' We called the shot the 'do it.' When I went to the IHL, they asked me what to call it. I said, 'I guess you call it the high wrap.'"

"When you score on a high wrap, it's shock. More shock than pandemonium. I think five of the eight goals I scored, there was complete silence after the goal. The refs didn't know whether to call it. The fans didn't know if they should cheer. Our bench didn't know if they should cheer. The other team didn't know if they should be mad or not."

"In the end, I scored eight goals [with the high wrap], four in the American league and four in the IHL. When I was in Kansas City, we were trying to set up something for me to go on "The Late Show with David Letterman.""

Unfortunately Armstrong's brush with fame never happened due to a scary illness that ended his career.

But then I got diagnosed with a brain tumor and had to retire. The tumor was supposed to be malignant. Luckily, it was benign."

Armstrong later turned to coaching and then real estate in his native London, Ontario.

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