As the director of amateur scouting for the St. Louis Blues, Bill Armstrong took a trip through the Ontario League earlier this season with his teenage son Jamie in tow. In every arena, fans stopped Armstrong to share a memory that is now a quarter of a century old.
It was 25 years ago today that Armstrong became the most unlikely hero in Memorial Cup history, capping one of the most compelling and exciting tournaments ever with his goal at 2:05 of the second overtime period for the Oshawa Generals in their 4-3 victory over the Kitchener Rangers in front of a sold-out crowd at the Copps Coliseum in Hamilton.
“My son finally said, ‘If I hear one more person tell me about that goal you scored in OT, I’m going to throw up, Dad,’ ” Armstrong said. “By the time we got to Oshawa, he was sick of it. The people I feel worst for are my teammates. They hear it all the time and they say, ‘Of all the guys to score that (expletive) goal, you had to do it.’ And my poor staff in St. Louis, they’ve had enough. Every rink I go to, people are like, ‘Hey, you scored that goal.’ ”
There was no reason to believe that Armstrong would be the scoring hero in a game that included a future superstar in Eric Lindros, along with future solid NHL players such as Steven Rice, Gilbert Dionne and Jason York. Armstrong, who was acquired mid-season by the Generals for his toughness and defensive play, was known more for his fists than his scoring prowess. In 221 regular-season and playoff games, he had scored only four goals.
The 1990 tournament was a watershed moment for the Memorial Cup and junior hockey. Attendance for the final game was a record 17,383, one that still stands today, and it marked the first time every game in the tournament was televised on TSN. The star power was enormous with Lindros, the most talked about prospect in hockey in a generation, starring for the Generals. It also was the coming out party for a 16-year-old defenseman for the Kamloops Blazers named Scott Niedermayer and the first Memorial Cup for Blazers coach Ken Hitchcock.
The level of hockey was superb. The Rangers and Generals, who had just come off a seven-game OHL final in which the Generals battled back from being down 3-1, were familiar foes. In fact, their 5-4 double overtime win over the Rangers during the round-robin portion of the tournament, a win that propelled the Generals directly to the final, is cited by many who saw it as one of the most entertaining games they’ve ever seen.
And the final was every bit as compelling. With the game being played in an NHL-sized arena about 40 miles from Kitchener and 80 miles from Oshawa, fans from both cities filled the rink. With the Rangers leading 2-1 in the second period, Generals starting goalie Kevin Butt went down with an injury and Oshawa called on its 17-year-old backup Fred Brathwaite, who hadn’t seen any game action in a month. At the other end, Mike Torchia was putting on a spectacular display. In all he stopped 50 shots in the final and was named the top goalie in the tournament.
But he could not stop Armstrong’s seeing-eye shot from the blueline, a shot that went off the stick of Kitchener defenseman John Uniac. The goal was originally awarded to Scott Luik, who later admitted he didn’t touch the puck. And Armstrong’s name was forever forged in Memorial Cup lore.
(This Bill Armstrong, by the way, is not to be confused with the former minor league journeyman of the same name, who is credited with inventing the lacrosse shot goal that was later made famous by Mike Legg at the University of Michigan and Mikael Granlund in the 2011 World Championship.)
Armstrong’s son is himself a prospect, playing at Avon Old Farms in Connecticut. He’s eligible for the 2016 NHL draft and will spend next year playing at Avon, then intends to go to Sioux City of the USHL before taking a scholarship to Northeastern University in 2017-18. As a dad, Armstrong thinks his son could be a pro someday. As a scout, he’s thinking perhaps a later-round pick in 2016.
“He’s a little like Dustin Brown,” Armstrong said. “He can score and he’s got a little nasty side to him, too. I always tell him, ‘I don’t know if you’ll be a pro, but you love the game and you work at it and you’re going to college and play and we’ll go from there.’ ”
And who knows? Maybe one day Jamie Armstrong will score a goal almost as big as the one his father scored 25 years ago.
For more on Armstrong, the Generals and the 1990 Memorial Cup, look for our 25-year retrospective on the tournament in the next issue of The Hockey News, which will be on newsstands in late May.