LOS ANGELES — With the National Hockey League in the midst of its holiday break, now is a good time to look at the lighter side of the game, away from the spotlight that constantly shines on the playoff races or the heated battles between teams.
In that spirit, former Los Angeles Kings forward Derek Armstrong, who has a ton of stories from his days as a player, spoke exclusively with Frozen Royalty about a few of his more interesting and humorous hockey memories.
Now 43 years old, Armstrong was a sixth round pick (128th overall) in the 1992 NHL Entry Draft by the New York Islanders. He never made it for good in the NHL with the Islanders, and later, with the Ottawa Senators and the New York Rangers. But he got a chance with the Kings, starting in the 2002-03 season and ended up playing five seasons with the Kings (the 2004-05 season was lost due to the NHL locking out its players) with his best season coming in 2006-07, when he scored 11 goals and added 33 assists for 44 points in 67 games.
In 477 NHL regular season games with the Islanders, Senators, Rangers and Kings, he scored 72 goals and tallied 149 assists for 221 points.
Especially for those who know him, while you wouldn’t necessarily call him a prankster or a joker, Armstrong certainly has his share of stories. But like most players, the vast majority of stories he has are not suitable for publication.
“I played 17 years, all over the world,” said Armstrong, who now works in the Kings Hockey Development department as their Director, Hockey Programming and Curriculum. “There were lots of great characters, a lot of great stories. I just don’t want all the stories written about—about 95 percent of them.”
Nevertheless, he shared a few of his best. One involved former Kings forward Brad Smyth.
“Brad Smyth was my line mate here for awhile,” Armstrong reminisced. “I’ve known him since I was 14 years old. He’s one of my best friends. We used to mess around a lot. When I played in the minors with him, I only gave him three chances a game. If he didn’t score on at least one, I wouldn’t pass to him the rest of the game.”
“We used to throw water bottles at each other during games,” Armstrong added. “Our coach thought we were crazy and he had to separate us on the bench a lot. We were just so competitive. Brad would shoot all the time—five or six shots a game. If he wasn’t scoring, he’d take all these bad angle shots and I’d get so frustrated that I’d stop passing to him.”
Although he wasn’t a goal scorer with the Kings, Smyth was a decent sniper in the minors.
“We were in Hartford, in the minors, and he’s very particular about his sticks,” said Armstrong. “For scorers, sticks are everything to them. Equipment is everything. They’ve got to feel comfortable. They’re a different breed. They shoot first, ask questions second. I think that’s the best way to describe goal scorers.”
“He had this long stick that he wrapped three or four times with black tape,” added Armstrong. “We were in warm-ups when this guy, Daniel Goneau with the New York Rangers—he was a high draft pick. Brad broke his [own] stick and put it on the bench. Dan was trying to be a good guy and gave it to a kid. Dan came into the dressing room and Brad started yelling at him, ‘don’t touch my sticks!’ Dan thought, ‘what the heck? I just gave it to a kid.’”
“The next game—I was usually the last player to leave the dressing room. That was part of my routine. Brad said, ‘Army! Let me go out last,’ and I said, ‘you’re not going out last.’ We almost started fighting in the dressing room before the game and the coach had to separate us. Brad said, ‘let me go out last just this once,’ so I said, ‘OK, just this once, but if we don’t play well tonight, we’re gonna go at it!’”
Smyth had his revenge all planned out.
“It was a 20 minute warm-up, at the time,” Armstrong noted. “We were about seven or eight minutes into the warm-up, and I’m thinking, ‘where the heck is Brad?’ So we were skating around and all of a sudden, Brad comes out with a dozen of Goneau’s sticks and starts handing them out, all around the glass. Dan didn’t have any sticks for the entire month of December. Brad handed out every one of his sticks. It was pretty funny. He had to use other guy’s sticks that month because [stick manufacturers] shut down during the holidays.”
“Brad gave away every one of his sticks and he told him, ‘don’t ever touch my sticks again.’”
Armstrong also has fond memories of rugged former Kings forward Ian Laperriere.
“Lappy was one of the best guys I played with,” Armstrong emphasized. “I’m still personal friends with him. Lappy is exactly what everybody thinks he is. He’s a great person. He played the game the right way. He played an honest game. He’s admired by a lot of people.”
“One of the best stories with Lappy was when we were in Las Vegas for the Frozen Fury game,” Armstrong added. “He was with the Colorado Avalanche. He was a feisty player, I was a feisty player. He was much tougher than I was, but I remember playing in that game and in the second period, some guy ran me over. I didn’t see him coming and I thought it was Lappy.”
“In our game, we have respect for each other, so I was thinking, ‘what’s he doing, running me over in pre-season?’ We want to be competitive, but we don’t want to hurt each other too much in the pre-season. I got hit pretty hard.”
As one might expect, Armstrong responded accordingly.
“So the puck came around the boards and I lined him up,” Armstrong recalled. “I ran him over. All of a sudden, he was ready to square off with me and drop the gloves. He’s pretty tough and I told him, ‘I’m not fighting you. What’s going on?’”
“When he was trying to square off with me, I told him, ‘I got you back for hitting me,’” Armstrong added. “He told me after the game, ‘that wasn’t even me who hit you. That was Ben Guite who hit you, not me.’ We had a chuckle after the game about it. It was pretty funny.”
Armstrong also shared some memories involving former left wing and current Kings President/Business Operations Luc Robitaille.
“What was always great about him was that he loved the game,” Armstrong noted. “You could tell that he loved the game as much as anybody or more than anybody. He was as competitive as anyone you’d ever meet, but he went about it in a different way.”
“A lot of guys who are competitive are going to be mean and angry,” Armstrong added. “He’s such a lovable guy and a likable guy. But he had a spirit inside him that was so competitive that you couldn’t even explain it to people.”
“He’s a happy-go-lucky guy who was always great to people and to his teammates.”
As goal scorers do, Robitaille always wanted the puck.
“He was the most demanding player I’ve ever played with because you always had to get him pucks,” said Armstrong. “Every game, you had to give him opportunities to score. The greatest thing about him was that most players are demanding about getting pucks, but he always found a way to finish. That’s why I didn’t mind giving him pucks. You always ended up getting rewarded, eventually.”
Armstrong also shared an amusing story involving Robitaille and former Kings teammate Trent Klatt.
“I remember one time, Trent Klatt was our line mate,” said Armstrong. “I’m kind of free spirited, but I’ve got to flip a switch when I go out on the ice to get that competitive side out in a different way. Luc and I would clown around in the dressing room, but once I hit the ice, I could flip a switch and all that would disappear.”
“Trent Klatt was a guy who had to be serious the whole time and Luc and I were about as opposite from that as you could be,” added Armstrong. “We were in Minnesota one time and Trent is from Minnesota. We’d do these three-on-ones and three-on-twos [in warm-up]. Luc always liked to shoot all three pucks and Klatter would get mad sometimes because I gave Luc all three pucks to shoot.”
But this time, things were supposed to be different.
“One day, we were walking [into the arena in] Minnesota and Luc said, ‘Army—let’s let Klatter shoot all three pucks—this is his home rink,’” Armstrong recalled. “So I said, ‘OK, perfect.’”
“We were clowning around the whole time and I got the puck on the breakout and I gave it to Luc,” Armstrong added. “He passed it to Klatter, but [the pass] was a slap shot off his ankle and Klatter kind of fell in the corner and there’s signs everywhere, ‘Welcome Back Trent Klatt.’”
“Meanwhile, Luc looks at his stick. ‘Oh man! Must be the stick,’ and we’re chuckling because Luc is doing this on purpose. The second time came around and I gave the puck to Luc, and we told Klatter that he’s going to get to shoot all three. Luc passed the puck to Klatter again, this time, off the back of his hip. Luc checks his stick again. So we’ve gone twice now and Klatter still hasn’t gotten a shot on net. We’re hitting him with pucks and all the fans are there watching him, and he’s almost tripping and falling. He didn’t look like he was having a good time.”
As the story goes, Klatt got the last laugh, when it counted.
“So the third one, I gave it to Luc, he faked a shot and passed to Klatter with an empty net, but he hit him in the skates,” Armstrong said, chuckling. “Klatter falls into the boards in front of everybody and he’s just fuming.”
“Lucky and I are laughing,” Armstrong added. “He wouldn’t even talk to us in the dressing room, but I think he ended up scoring on the first shift, so he kind of got over it. But it was hilarious because we had this planned the whole time, and Klatter found a way to get through the game.”
LEAD PHOTO: Former Los Angeles Kings forward Derek Armstrong. Photo courtesy Los Angeles Kings.
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