Andrew Warburton

Calling on Craig: Cougars thrilled by top prospect Armstrong

It’s not often 15-year-old players can be called up by their respective WHL teams and make a difference immediately.

Craig Armstrong defies the odds in a lot of ways, in his first game in the league January 4th, in Kelowna he not only appeared to instantly boost team morale, he also made an offensive play, that had coaches asking themselves if he was really just 15-years-old.

Cougars Head Coach Richard Matvichuk was quick to chime in on the positives of having a player like Armstrong as part of the team.

“He opened a lot of eyes even in his first game, we knew Craig was a good player but he’s going to be a really good player, and he’s one of those guys we’re looking to build around, it’s only a matter of time before he’s at this level full time”

Craig Armstrong, Team Alberta U16

Armstrong continued that eye opening play in three subsequent games with the team, showcasing his speed and playmaking ability which got him drafted and looks to make him into an elite player at the Western Hockey League level.

Armstrong has 25 points, 12 goals and 13 assists in 23 games this season in the CSSHL with the Edge School Midget Prep team in Calgary and is poised to play with Team Alberta in the 2019 Canada Winter Games in Red Deer.

Armstrong was very nonchalant when asked about how thrilled he was to get the call to come and join the big WHL club.

“Yeah,” he added “My parents get the call usually from Bob (Simmonds) or Mark Lamb and they just get told a message like, hey your son is gonna come up and play.”

Making the trip from his regular team the Edge School Midget Prep team in Calgary this time came with an unexpected hiccup.

Armstrong joked he arrived at the airport, but his somehow gear did not.

“It was a small flight and they just left my bag in Calgary, its something that doesn’t usually happen but it did,” said Armstrong.

Eventually Armstrong was reunited with his precious cargo, but he has only used it in practice so far in this call-up. He wasn’t hesitant on thinking of upsides to just being around the team, even if he is watching his teammates from the press box.

“Just seeing like how they read the game faster, and how its different on the ice when you’re thinking the game”

It’s no secret management is keen on what they’ve seen from their 2018 first round pick in the Bantam Draft. Director of Scouting for the Cougars Bob Simmonds added that even before the Bantam Draft the scouting team was excited about him.

“Once you recognize that he has the ability to skate, and play the game at the right pace and he has the skill to go with that. It’s his compete, his willingness to do whatever it takes to win a game is off the charts, he’s a natural leader and he does not take one shift off ever.. he’s maximum effort first shift to the last shift of every game no matter where the game is at”

From a team perspective, Simmonds said Armstrong loves to be with the Cougars, and his teammates love having him around.

“His character is unbelievable, he’s not shy, he’s a confident young man, but he will do anything to win, his level of compete is probably as good as anyone I’ve ever seen”

If Simmonds was to compare him to one player in the NHL, he pointed directly to Theo Fleury mostly because of his seemingly golden combination of tenacity, heart, and skill.

Simmonds couldn’t help himself from adding, even though he’s 5’6, he plays a big game and he’s a real pleasure to be around.

It was noticeable just around the Cougars dressing room area, without anything being said Armstrong carried out other players bags to the bus, and packed up the sticks, among other tasks others would refuse to do even when asked.

Cougars Equipment Manager Chico Dhanjal even telling Armstrong at one point to slow down, and let other guys take their own stuff.

The answer spoke to his character even more, as Armstrong peered back shrugged and just continued to carry four fully packed hockey bags out the arena doors into the bus.

The real story though when talking to Craig, it brought a smile, and joy to his face when he emotionally said “Hopefully I am playing here next year.”

A comment sure to bring a smile to all Cougars fans looking for a fresh young star to brighten up things around BC’s Northern Capital.

 

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