The uniform is blue and white, the number on the back of the jersey is 10, but the player on the women’s hockey team obviously isn’t George Armstrong, one-time captain of the Toronto Maple Leafs.
There is a relationship though.
Betty Ann Armstrong is George’s daughter and the Leaside resident loves hockey as much as her dad and her three brothers, even though she had a harder time getting to play.
Her father didn’t push his three sons into hockey, but didn’t object. With his daughter, however, he didn’t feel at first that hockey was a woman’s sport.She was envious when Brian, Fred and Lorne played for the Leaside Kings. But there was nothing for girls at that time.
She was envious when Brian, Fred and Lorne played for the Leaside Kings. But there was nothing for girls at that time.
Her brothers would let her join them playing ball hockey in the parking lot of St. Cuthbert’s Church late into the evening under the lights there.
Once winter ice was put in at Trace Manes, the boys would play shinny on the hockey pad there and sometimes let her join them, but she had to use their hand-me-down skates. She never liked figure skates, because they were narrower and her feet got cold, and she was always tripping on the picks.
Finally, in 1974, her hockey-loving friend Nancy Mallabon, who lived on Randolph Rd., came to the rescue. She asked Dave Yarlett, VP of Leaside Hockey Association, to start girls hockey at Leaside arena.
“Dave said to Nancy he could get one hour of ice time on Sunday afternoon,” said Armsrong, “and it’s up to her to round up players, and Nancy did.
“That first Sunday Dave said there weren’t enough girls and they all had to have proper skates and equipment. Some girls had figure skates and no equipment.
“Nancy asked for another chance and that’s when more girls came out the following Sunday with the proper equipment. We had enough for two teams (Lancerettes and Blazerettes). We played each other for the rest of the year.
“Dave also said he had to fight to let the girls play as the girls had to play under MTHL rules because the ice time was sanctioned by the MTHL at the time.”
If you look on the website for the Toronto Leaside Girls Hockey Association, you’ll see a photo of one of the two first teams, and there in the front row is Betty Ann Armstrong.
Most of the girls are wearing equipment they had scrounged from boyfriends or brothers, and some were actually playing hockey in figure skates.
She recalls that when her father went to see his kids play, he was a quiet observer and never yelled. If you asked him for advice or help, he’d give it, but you had to ask, and he wouldn’t push it on you. He’s been quietly proud of all of their accomplishments, she says.
Left to her own devices, she would played hockey every day, she says. Instead, she walks back and forth to work each day from home on St. Cuthbert’s Rd. to Crescent School off Bayview north of Lawrence, and runs often for fitness and pleasure. She’s done the 60 km Breast Cancer walk 10 times, as well as the 200 km bike ride.
But she still gets her hockey time in.
Her team now is the Icebags, playing at the Rinx centre in west Toronto. When I asked if they practiced, she said no, they’re “beyond practising,” but a family connection can soften that stance. They have had the odd coaching session with her niece, Kalley, who plays for Harvard University.
Finally, she has an interesting memory about those early playing days:
When George Armstrong was coaching the Toronto Marlboros in the Memorial Cup in the 1970s, Gordie Howe’s sons were on his team. So, in the stands for the game were Gordie Howe and the Armstrong family, including son Lorne who was of an age to be colouring while he watched the game. Someone suggested that Gordie might sign Lorne’s colouring book, which he did. Now, that’s a souvenir.