The Armstrongs were there for the first Blues playoff game. They were also there for their greatest.
The St. Louis Blues who entered the NHL in 1967, made the playoffs in their first season – thanks, in part, to league alignment that placed all six expansion teams in the same division. Their postseason run carried them all the way to the Stanley Cup Final, where they faced off against the Montreal Canadiens.
The Blues’ first Cup Final game came on May 5, 1968. Vern Buffey was the referee, while the linesmen were Neil Armstrong and Pat Shetler. Armstrong also worked Game 2 of the series, a 4-0 sweep for the Habs.
St. Louis returned to the Final in 1969, only to once again be swept by Montreal. Armstrong again manned the lines for Games 1 and 2.
The following season brought a new opponent – the Boston Bruins – but the same results for St. Louis. A hard-earned trip to the Stanley Cup Final, where they were held winless in four straight losses to Bobby Orr and the big bad Bruins. Once more, linesman Neil Armstrong officiated Games 1 and 2.
Until 2019, that is. Though Neil Armstrong was long retired, his son, Doug, was still hard at work.
St. Louis saw their 25-season playoff streak come to an end after the 2004 season. Coming out of the 2004-05 lockout, the Blues made the playoffs just once from 2005-2011. Changes were afoot. In 2010, general manager Larry Pleau stepped aside, handing the reigns to Doug Armstrong, who was previously the team’s director of player personnel.
Armstrong helped the Blues return to the playoffs, picking up some hardware along the way in 2012 when St. Louis won the President’s Trophy and Armstrong was named the NHL’s General Manager of the Year. Of course, the real prize would come in 2019, when Armstrong’s Blues defeated the Boston Bruins in seven games to claim the Stanley Cup.
From the elder Armstrong – who followed up a 22-year career in stripes with another 25 years as a scout for the Montreal Canadiens – to the younger, you could say that hockey is in their blood. So is hard work.
“He had an unbelievable work ethic,” Doug Armstrong said of his father, Neil. “He had two jobs, a winter job and a summer job throughout my whole life growing up. Obviously I just watched the hours that he put in.”
“He was an ‘Iron Man’ in the NHL. He did like 1,800 games without missing an assignment. His work ethic is something that I thought he was well-known for in officiating. I’ve always tried not to tarnish that legacy.”
Neil, 86, is currently in an assisted living facility, battling Parkinson’s disease.
“I know he’s paying attention as much as possible,” Doug told the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. “I know they have the games tuned in there. He goes in and out. I’m sure he’s enjoying it.”
The Stanley Cup resides in the Hockey Hall of Fame, right down the hall from where Neil Armstrong’s plaque, dedicated in 1991, recognizes his career.
Following the Blues’ Stanley Cup victory with Doug at the helm, perhaps the league’s top trophy and one of its hall-of-fame linesmen will finally get to meet.
“That would certainly be in the plans,” Doug said. “It would be great to share another good memory with him.”