In his three short years with the Rams men’s hockey team, Aaron Armstrong has left the program in a better place than he found it. He’s a tireless worker on and off the ice, having trained his way to become an elite force on the team while volunteering his time to charity.
Head coach Johnny Duco says Armstrong was a significant factor why the team’s academics and community involvement is where it’s currently at.
When Armstrong joined the men’s hockey team in 2015, he never imagined he would become one of the most decorated Ryerson athletes both on and off the ice. Having recently finished his final season at Ryerson, Armstrong says he doesn’t think about his awards or team records when reflecting on his time here. Instead, he remembers his teammates, with whom he spent countless hours on the ice, in the classroom and in the community. But his teammates say their relationship with Armstrong was their memorable part of their time here.
“One thing I will take from Aaron is that he is very humble,” says Lucas Froese, a fellow Ram. “At times in my hockey career I wanted to get goals and glory, but no more, thanks to him. I think I have a best friend for life.”
On the ice, Armstrong is outstanding. Last year he led the OUA with 46 points in 28 games, setting a school record for most points in a season. He was named an OUA first-team all-star and a USports second-team all-Canadian. But these successes didn’t come without hard work and determination.
At only five-foot-nine, he’s smaller than most competitors, and he weighs 20 kilos less than some players he goes up against. There’s nothing physically imposing about Armstrong, but his game adapts around his smaller size. He’s a playmaker, whose speed and aggression make him a dominant force on the ice.
“The most difficult thing was confidence, that I could actually compete with these guys and contribute,” said Armstrong when asked about his switch to Ryerson. “When you come from Junior C and they come from the OHL with five years on you, I had to believe in myself before I could be effective.”
To get where he is now, Armstrong has kept himself busy both in the gym and on the ice. The coaching staff told Armstrong he needed to bulk up and improve his shot. “It all comes down to his understanding of what needs to be worked on,” says Duco. “And he came back a top-end player.”
His hard work paid off, but Armstrong’s true strength lies in his positivity, selflessness and community-building.
Armstrong is active in the community. He volunteers with Light Patrol, a charity for homeless youth. He also mentors struggling Ryerson athletes academically. Along with his teammates he taught a class from Nelson Mandela public school in Regent Park how to skate. His resumé is full of things that show he is caring and passionate.
He was the first player in Ryerson history to win the prestigious Randy Gregg Award last year for combining athletics, academics and community service.
“I was shocked (by the award) and felt privileged,” said Armstrong. “I played with with some really good players and they had a large part to do with it the entire team and season was huge.”
Armstrong’s passion for making a difference was evident last May when he and five other Ryerson athletes ventured on a two-week humanitarian trip to Cambodia. After hearing the stories and challenges of the 27 orphans he met on the trip, he was inspired to create the Armstrong Hockey School, a hockey camp that raised funds for the orphans.
The camp ran last August and raised $5,000, enough to send all the orphans to school for the year.
Rookie Cavin Leth is one of those players who’s been inspired by Armstrong.
“The culture he wants to bring in is someone who takes pride on and off the ice,” says Leth. “He’s so positive and (he) pushed everyone to be the best versions of themselves and help people, which I’ll take with me.”
Duco says Armstrong’s impact on the team will continue to be felt, even after he’s gone.
“I’d say the biggest legacy he’s leaving behind is the culture piece and how important it is to be good students and be good members of the community.”
By Julia Ranney