Legendary Denver coach Armstrong passes away

Murray Armstrong, who led Denver to five national championships in 21 seasons, has died.

Armstrong passed away Wednesday evening, a Denver spokesperson confirmed on Thursday. The legendary coach was 94.

“I am extremely saddened to learn of the passing of coach Murray Armstrong,” DU head coach George Gwozdecky said in a statement released by the school. “The game of hockey and the University of Denver has lost one of its great men. Coach Armstrong was the legendary architect of this great DU Pioneer hockey program.

“Before I accepted the head hockey coaches position in 1994, I tried to learn as much as I could about the history of the Pioneer hockey program and what made it so nationally successful and widely respected during Murray’s years. Honesty, hard work, class, respect and dignity are all characteristics that Murray believed in and he promoted these values every day of his coaching career. I have tried to utilize many of his thoughts and ideas in order to build on the great tradition that he established. Murray Armstrong’s legacy continues to be felt even today among the history, traditions, and even practice drills of the hockey program.”

In 1961, Armstrong was named the Spencer Penrose Award winner as the nation’s top college coach after leading the Pioneers to a 30-1-1 record and the third of his five NCAA titles.

The other national championships came in 1958, 1960, 1968 and 1969.

Other highlights of Armstrong’s coaching career were the historic 4-4 tie with the Russian National team in 1959, the 1959-60 tie and victory over the eventual gold-medal U.S. Olympic team, and the dramatic 4-3 upset win over Cornell for the 1969 NCAA championship.

He was twice honored as WCHA Coach of the Year in 1961 and 1968. 

Armstrong played nine years in the NHL for the Toronto Maple Leafs, New York Americans and Detroit Red Wings from 1937-46. From 1947-56, he coached the Regina (Sask.) Pats at the Canadian Major Junior A level before arriving in Denver.

According to the school press release, when Armstrong arrived in the Mile High City, he promised to give DU a national championship in three years or he’d quit. Armstrong delivered on the promise in only two years with DU’s first NCAA championship in 1958.

“Coach Armstrong’s impact on the lives of his former student-athletes is profound,” Gwozdecky added. “I often speak with his former players, who almost always bring up a fond memory, a favorite statement or a life-lesson that Murray taught them. They all freely admit that they are better men because Murray touched their lives as a coach and as a mentor. 

“Murray Armstrong will remain in Pioneer hearts forever.”