Colby Armstrong Back In Red Deer With Sportsnet
Blessed with the gift of gab and an outgoing personality, Colby Armstrong is doing what he loves best.
His professional playing career ended two years ago but the former Red Deer Rebels forward is still involved with hockey as a TV analyst with Sportsnet.
The 33-year-old has been in Red Deer since last week with a Sportsnet crew covering the Memorial Cup tournament at the Centrium.
Armstrong, who wore the Rebels jersey for three seasons starting in 1999, became involved with his current employer in the spring of 2008, a few months after he had been dealt from the powerful Pittsburgh Penguins to the lowly Atlanta Thrashers at the late-February NHL trade deadline.
At first he was hesitant due to the fact he would be part of the telecast covering the Stanley Cup final between the Detroit Red Wings and . . . the Penguins.
“I got called by Sportsnet to see if I would come and work the finals because I had just played with the team,” he said earlier this week. “I was like ‘I don’t know if I really want to go back during the finals and watch all my friends win the Stanley Cup’. That was the first time I did TV, sat on a panel and experienced doing this job.”
Despite his extrovert mannerisms, Armstrong didn’t feel that he immediately fit into the TV gig.
“I have to admit it’s harder than I thought t would be,” he noted. “Right off the bat I was still a player so I didn’t really care as much about it if I screwed up or didn’t know what was going on.
“Now that I’m done playing it’s just the opposite. I’m like ‘this is a little harder and a little more serious’, but I’ve been learning as I go.
“I do enjoy it, it’s a great way for me to stay in the game. I talk about hockey. It’s been my whole life, so it’s given me an opportunity to stick around with something I love.”
Armstrong was a member of the Rebels’ Memorial Cup winning team. That experience was part of an extra memorable season for the Saskatoon native, who put up 78 points (36g,42a) during the regular season and 12 more (6-6) during the Rebels’ long playoff run, then was selected in the first round — 21st overall — by the Penguins in the NHL entry draft.
He played three full seasons with the Pens’ AHL farm team in Wilkes Barre/Scranton, Penn., before being summoned to the big team partway through the ’05-06 campaign. Armstrong was an immediate hit with the NHL club, scoring 16 goals and recording 40 points in just 47 games.
He stayed in Pittsburgh the following season before being traded to Atlanta. The feisty left winger was in Atlanta for two more years, then played two seasons with the Toronto Maple Leafs and one with the Montreal Canadiens.
But as the 2013-14 NHL season approached, Armstrong was without a contract, so he accepted an offer from the Vaxjo Lakers in Sweden.
“It was cool,” he said of his overseas experience. “I wished I could have stayed over here a little longer, but as it is now you see a lot of 30-year-old guys struggling to get (NHL) jobs or camp invitations. I was in that same boat. I got an offer from Sweden and experienced something totally different.
“It was kind of nice, but one year was good enough for me.”
Armstrong and his family returned to Saskatchewan following a year in Sweden and settled into their acreage near the village of Clavet, 30 km from Saskatoon.
He and his family are currently living in Pittsburgh, where he owns a home from his days with the Penguins.
“We moved to Pittsburgh in October,” he said. “I’m doing some radio for the Penguins. Not a lot, but I get to go to the games and get to hang out at the rink and visit with friends. There are about four or five guys still there from when I played, plus the training staff.
“It’s worked out well because my wife is from Pennsylvania and it’s close to Toronto (and the Sportsnet main studio/office).”
Armstrong brought his wife Melissa and their children Cruise (five), Mila (two) and Liv (11 months) to Red Deer late last week to take in the Memorial Cup experience and visit his former teammates and haunts.
“My oldest son is five so I thought it would be cool for him. Brent (Rebels GM/head coach) has banners of (former Rebels who moved on to the NHL) hanging in the lobby of the rink so he could see that, see the city and meet some of my former billets and where I stayed.
“I just think it’s cool to show my wife and kids where I grew up and learned how to play hockey at a high level, learning how to be a professional. I have a lot of stories to tell from here.
“They came for a great show and got to meet everybody, from fans that I was close with to billets and the rink. They got to experience what the city is like when they’re behind something. It was awesome.”
Armstrong is thankful for the time he played in Red Deer under the guidance of head coach Sutter.
“When I came in as a young kid I was just trying to make the team,” he said. “This was the first team of significance I ever made.
“I never played with the top level (minor) teams (in Saskatoon). I wasn’t with any of the travelling teams until midget AAA.
“So coming here was like the first big thing. It was like a mini NHL with Brent Sutter as our coach, an ex-NHL guy with (Stanley) Cups.”
He credits his years with the Rebels for preparing him for what was to follow in his life.
“I came from Saskatoon to a place where you learned accountability and how to be a pro . . . what it takes to succeed in practice and in life,” he said.
“I made mistakes, I screwed up a few times, but I learned from it. Brent brought in a great group. We had great guys and we grew together.
“I took that into pro hockey. I feel like I had a head start on life as a pro and on the ice on as pro as well. I was lucky.”
He now he makes a living talking about the sport he once played for pay.
“We have great people working with us and I know a lot more now than I did yesterday, and every day is like that,” he said.
“Kind of like when I was here playing.”