For most players in Canadian university programs, the varsity circuit is their last chance to play high-level hockey. For Ryerson Rams center Aaron Armstrong, it’s also about changing lives, both at home and abroad.
In May 2017, Armstrong ventured on a two-week humanitarian trip to Cambodia with five other Ryerson athletes. After visiting an orphanage, he was inspired to create the Armstrong Hockey School in Listowel, Ont., near his hometown of Teeswater. The summer camp raised $5,000, enough to send all 27 orphans to school for the year. “The ultimate goal of the hockey school was to generate enough funds to be able to support the orphanage,” Armstrong said. “What was most rewarding was meeting that goal because people were so generous so that these kids could go to school.”
This year, Armstrong helped plan a similar trip to Ghana. There, he and fellow Ryerson athletes played sports with kids at another orphanage and taught them basic academic subjects.
Armstrong’s hockey camp, which will run again this summer, is an outgrowth of his longstanding passion for both hockey and humanitarian work.
Over his three years at Ryerson, Armstrong had 31 goals and 80 points in 77 games, including 46 points in just 28 games in 2016-17, tying the school record for points in a season. Off the ice, he was active in the Toronto community. He volunteered with a charity called Light Patrol, handing out food and clothing to homeless youth. He tutored Ryerson athletes struggling academically and helped teach students from Nelson Mandela Park Public School how to skate. “He loves hockey, but hockey isn’t who he is, and that’s why he’s such an outstanding guy,” said former teammate Lucas Froese. “He’s not helping the community to fulfill volunteer hours or win awards. He works hard and never brags or complains.”
Last year, Armstrong became the first Ryerson player to win the prestigious Randy Gregg Award, given to the Canadian university hockey player who best combines athletics, academics and community service. “I was shocked and felt very humbled,” Armstrong said. “I played with some really good players who I couldn’t have done it without.”
After graduating from Ryerson with a degree in business management, Armstrong is heading to McGill University, where he’ll play for the Redmen while studying for his master’s in sport psychology. “The biggest legacy he’s leaving behind,” said Rams coach Johnny Duco, “is the culture piece, how important it is to be good students and good members of the community.”
This story appears in the August 20, 2018 issue of The Hockey News magazine.