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Harvard Hero Kalley Armstrong Continues Hockey Career with Western Mustangs

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As the Western Mustangs enter a rebuilding phase, which includes the arrival of eight freshmen, along with the arrival of former NCAA player Tia Kipfer, the presence of strong leadership on the coaching staff promises that a return to glory is poised to be one filled with great promise, while the values of hard work and dedication serve as its cornerstones.
Among the new faces on the Mustangs ready to engage in the admirably ambitious effort includes a third-generation star whose hockey career also consisted of heroics with the Harvard crimson. Extending her career into the coaching realm, Kalley Armstrong boasts very proud hockey roots.

The granddaughter of former Toronto Maple Leafs captain and Stanley Cup champion George Armstrong, she followed in his proud roots, serving as Crimson captain in her senior season, testament to her maturity and strong leadership. In joining the Mustangs coaching staff, she continues to emulate her grandfather’s hockey legacy, as he also served as a Toronto Maple Leafs coach to finish the 1988-89 season.   

Adding to Armstrong’s proud hockey heritage is the fact that the 2016-17 season signifies the Maple Leafs’ centennial. Of note, her grandfather was named among the 100 Greatest Players in franchise history, ranking as the 12th greatest of all-time. While his recognition is a point of pride, she finds great admiration in his devotion to family,

“Talking about my grandpa always becomes a sensitive subject for me because I admire him so much. Of course I will always be proud of his accomplishments as a hockey player, but who he is as a person, for myself and all of our family, is what we are most proud of. My grandmother is currently very sick with Alzheimer’s and he refuses to miss a single day by her side at the hospital. That is what I am most proud of as his granddaughter.”

Joined by first-year head coach Kelly Paton, Armstrong is joined on the coaching staff by the likes of Blair Webster and Murray Paton. Taking into account that it is also Armstrong’s first season with the Mustangs, this gathering of nascent players and coaches shall grow into their roles together. Such a learning process is poised to transform the Mustangs into a program that shall evolve into a solid and cohesive unit as the season’s progress.   

Considering that Paton is also a former player, it has provided Armstrong with a ideal mentor. Having starred with the University of New Hampshire, earning First Team All-America honors, she graduated among the Top 20 all-time scoring leaders in the aftermath of the 2009-10 campaign. With a background as a head coach at the PWHL level, Paton’s experience and understanding of the pressures that comes with being a player, it has allowed Armstrong a pleasant transition into the coaching ranks,

“Coaching alongside Head Coach Kelly Paton has been such a positive influence for me as well.  Coming from similar backgrounds, Kelly played Division 1 hockey at the University of New Hampshire, has been beneficial to us working together as coaches because we have a lot of the same philosophies and ideas.

It is pretty easy to see how good of a hockey player she is when she’s out there on the ice, but more importantly it’s incredible to see how that reflects in her coaching. Kelly has this knack for coaching that I believe comes naturally and is hard to find. She sees the ice so well and is genuinely invested in the well-being of the girls and the team.

I owe so much of my positive experience at Western to her because I am learning so much, but at the same time she is open to my feedback which really helps me to feel like my opinion is valued. I am just trying to learn as much as possible from her, she’s a great role model. It has been a blast coaching alongside her.”

Having excelled at the Ivy League level with the Harvard Crimson over four fantastic seasons, including an appearance in the NCAA championship game, Armstrong made a quick impression as a freshman, leading the team in game-winning goals. Recognized as the recipient of the ECAC Best Defensive Forward Award, her career also included a nod on the Second-Team All-Ivy.

Among her teammates at Harvard included Team Canada U18 alum Karly Heffernan, goaltender Emerance Maschmeyer and current NWHL player Marissa Gedman, whose father Rich appeared in the 1986 World Series with the Boston Red Sox. The prestige of serving as Crimson team captain allowed Armstrong to follow in the proud footsteps of other captains including Jenny Brine, Nicole Corriero, Julie Chu, Sarah Vaillancourt and Hockey Hall of Famer Angela Ruggiero.

Undoubtedly, Armstrong learned valuable lessons in leadership from head coach Katey Stone. One of the most successful coaches in the history of NCAA hockey (both male and female), with over 425 career wins to her credit, Stone also served as the head coach for the US national team during the 2011-12 season. The list of players that have played for Stone reads like a who’s who of women’s hockey, among which Armstrong was proud to have learned from her wisdom.

“Coach Stone will always be one of my biggest influences as a hockey player, a hockey coach and a person. She has a unique thing going on at Harvard, and I am probably very biased but I believe it is one of the best women’s hockey programs in the country.

The skills and habits she instills in her players are directly reflected in how well her athletes present themselves off the ice, and I think it says a lot about who she is as a coach and a person. She really prepares her athletes for life after Harvard, and I owe so much of who I am now to Coach.

It’s funny because now that I am coaching instead of playing, I am constantly put in situations where I’m like “What would Coach do in this situation?” I find myself trying to replicate her in a lot of ways, because I absolutely loved playing for her. I will always be one of her biggest fans.”

Considering that the Western Mustangs captured the Canadian Interuniversity Sport national championship in 2015, the arrival of eight freshman this autumn, compounded by the graduations of All-Canadians Kelly Campbell and Katelyn Gosling, has led to a feeling of rebuilding for the program.

Despite the amount of new faces this season, the Mustangs have managed to rank in the top five among OUA teams in terms of goals scored, power play goals, and power play percentage. With Lyndsay Kirkham and Amanda Pereira serving as the Mustangs offensive leaders, they are helping to set the example as the roster continues to work towards chemistry. As Armstrong elaborated, chemistry is obviously the elixir towards attaining winning results,

“I think creating good team chemistry is definitely a challenge we are facing as coaches this year. Especially with a large group of new faces coming in, the beginning of the season has been very experimental for us in trying to find roles for all the players and who works well with who.

At this point fairly early into the season, mixing things up gives us as coaches a chance to identify where our strengths and weaknesses are as a team and also gives players and goalies an opportunity to step up into certain roles.”

Despite the perpetual changes in personnel that are obligatory with any team, the efforts of the Mustangs have led to some positive results. Despite a 5-6 start to the season, the Mustangs enjoyed a very encouraging outcome in their season opener, defeating the defending conference champion Guelph Gryphons by a 3-2 tally, a rematch of last year’s McCaw Cup Finals, with Marlowe Pecora logging the game-winning tally. Victories against Laurier and rival Waterloo have also continued to maintain the Mustangs’ confidence.

Since joining the Mustangs coaching staff, Armstrong has employed more than just a coaching role, but has served as a big sister for so many players, especially those far away from home for the first time and adjusting to a new level of play. As Armstrong continues to work towards bringing the Mustangs back into the upper echelon of the OUA, it has proven to be a labour of love,

“It has been nothing but a great experience so far. I knew coming into the coaching position at Western, fairly fresh out of college, that I would face some challenges. Being fairly close to the players in age and not having much experience behind the bench were among those.

Yet, I think some of that has worked to my advantage. Being the assistant coach allows me to play more of a support role for the girls and I hope they see me as approachable and relatable. I honestly think I am learning far more from the players than they are learning from me, so being inexperienced has its benefits.”

“All quotes obtained first hand unless otherwise indicated”

Photo credit: Candace Horgan, USCHO Photo Shelter

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