TORONTO – Whether it’s NHL superstars like Drew Doughty or Para ice hockey legends such as Greg Westlake, Canadian defenceman Rob Armstrong studies the best to improve his game.
Armstrong was a hockey fanatic from a young age. Even a virus, which attacked his spine and limited his mobility at age six, couldn’t deter his desire for the sport. He enjoyed being a goaltender when he played road hockey with his friends. That’s when he started to copy the big names in the sport.
‘’I loved playing street hockey so I always wanted to be the goalie because I couldn’t move very well,’’ said the 22-year-old from Erin, Ont. who now lives in Ottawa. “So Patrick Roy was a huge one for me.’’
Still at that tender age, Armstrong pondered for nearly four years whether he would attempt to hop into a sled and try Para ice hockey. But coming from a family which was deeply into sports, especially baseball and softball, and a grandfather who was a hockey nut, Armstrong couldn’t resist the urge to give his favourite sport a go at age 10.
He loved it immediately – the freedom of self-propelled motion on ice, that first participation in a sport you love, and the potential to dream of scoring the winning goal to give Canada the gold medal made Armstrong quickly forget about any goaltending ambitions.
‘’Now I love watching those defencemen that can move the puck,’’ Armstrong said. ‘’Bobby Orr really made that offensive d-man a role, I feel. New guys coming up like Thomas Chabot and Drew Doughty who’s been a solid player for some time now continue that trend.
‘’It’s almost like homework sometimes just seeing some players and their playing styles. There’s a lot of NHL players who are great at moving the puck so it’s really important not to emulate but just learn from them.’’
Armstrong has also been astute to the top players in Para ice hockey. One of the first he mentions is 2014 Canadian Paralympian Anthony Gale.
‘’Anthony was a little older than me but we kind of grew up playing on the same team, in the same division for a bit and once I saw what he could do, then I really wanted to do that.’’
Four-time Paralympian Greg Westlake was Armstrong’s roommate leading into the 2018 Paralympic Winter Games in PyeongChang where the pair helped Canada win silver.
'’He was a great leader, a great friend of mine and I enjoyed being around him,’’ said Armstrong. ‘’He was the hardest competitor I have ever seen. You can learn a lot from a guy like that.’’
The Carleton University law student, who has been part of the Canadian national team now for a few years, says the learning never ends.
‘’It definitely took some patience (in the beginning),’’ he said. ‘’Especially with my shot. It wasn’t developing as fast as other players my age. But it just takes practice, it takes time being on the ice, playing with other players and learning from them, going to the gym and training.
‘’I’m still trying to get better each day.’’
Already a world champion and Paralympic silver medallist, Armstrong will be looking to help Canada win more hardware at the 2019 World Para Ice Hockey Championships.