Haliburton’s Graeme Armstrong had his hockey dreams come true earlier this month, taking to the ice with his hometown Huskies to make his OJHL debut.
The 16-year-old played a key role in the team’s 10-4 victory over the visiting Caledon Admirals at S.G. Nesbitt Memorial Arena Feb. 4. He saw big minutes, particularly in the first and third periods, lining up on the right side of the Huskies’ defence, and even helped himself to his first point – a secondary assist on the team’s fourth goal, scored by Ty Collins.
Speaking to The Highlander, Armstrong recounts his experience from game day and the 48 hours leading up to it.
“I was down in Peterborough when I got the call from coach Ryan [Ramsay]. He had a few guys out nursing injuries and wanted to give them a bit of a break… I attended a players’ camp with the Huskies in the summer and am registered as an affiliate player. Still, it was a massive surprise,” Armstrong said.
The youngster has spent this season playing AAA with the Central Ontario Wolves’ U16 outfit, putting up 16 points in 36 games.
He got to the rink early, around three hours before puck drop, where he was greeted by Ramsay and assistant Jordan Bailey. The pair explained how and where they saw Armstrong fitting into the lineup, prepping him on the Huskies’ systems. The rest of the team took the blueliner under their wing, including him in their usual pre-game routines.
He was first out onto the ice for warm-ups, where he completed a ‘rookie lap’ in front of his cheering family and friends. That helped to settle the nerves, though Armstrong said he felt his heart skip a beat when Ramsay gave him the nod to jump the boards for his first shift early in the opening period.
“He just said ‘welcome to junior hockey’, told me to play my game, try not to be nervous and to do everything hard. He said I was there on merit and to go out onto the ice and show everyone what I can do,” Armstrong said. “It was a bit overwhelming, but I took a hit against the boards almost right away, and that helped me to dial in.”
He was on the ice for four Huskies goals in the first frame. Back in the locker room between periods, he was handed a puck noting the date and opponent, in honour of his first OJHL point.
With the result secure in the third, Ramsay started rolling Armstrong out every other shift, leaving him on the ice for the final two minutes of play.
“It almost felt like a one-of-a-kind experience. Not many kids my age can say they’ve been able to play Jr. A hockey, especially for their hometown team,” he said.
“I remember being in the stands last season and thinking ‘wouldn’t it be cool to make it out onto the ice, even just for one game’. Now I’ve had that first taste, I want more.”
Armstrong will finish out this season with the Wolves, though said he hopes to play junior hockey next year.