MONTREAL – With a great season of hockey in the bank and a new northeast division banner to add to the collection, we took a look at a few current Habs who won titles, hoisted trophies and became champions long before taking their first strides in the NHL.
Considering the amount of time, effort and wins it takes to put together a Memorial Cup championship run, the experience gained serves not only as a foundation for a player’s eventual professional career, but also as a benchmark for understanding what it takes to win as a team. The lessons Canadiens’ forward Colby Armstrong picked up on his journey to a 2001 Memorial Cup title with the Red Deer Rebels went a long way to shaping the player he is today.
“It was something else. We had a great team that whole season. I think we lost 11 games all year, which is pretty special,” recalled Armstrong, of the Rebels’ monster 2000-01 campaign that saw them march their way to the summit of the WHL before going on to claim the Memorial Cup. “We went to the playoffs, ran up against some adversity a few times throughout each series, but for the most part, pulled it together and got it done all the way through the Western league. We got to the Memorial Cup, and not knowing some of the teams we were facing, obviously in a one-game type of format, was quite a bit different than playing a series against a team.
“You had to be prepared and ready to go, and you had to get some lucky bounces along the way. But I still think we had the best team, and we ended up winning the final game in overtime against a really good Quebec team,” explained Armstrong, whose team battled tooth and nail to come away with a 6-5 OT win over the Val-d’Or Foreurs, after having already topped them 5-4 – also in OT – a week earlier during the round robin phase of the tournament. “Everything worked out really well for us. It was quite the run, and the experience [I got] – even being so young [then] – I can still fall back on that today.”
After an initial WHL season that saw him put up 36 goals and 78 points in 72 games with the Rebels that year, Armstrong carried that strong performance into the playoffs where he racked up six goals and 12 points in 21 tilts. Despite the personal success he found during that standout season which ultimately led to the Memorial Cup, the Lloydminster, SK native took his biggest lesson away from what was accomplished as a group.
“What it takes to win. That’s something that sticks with you forever,” shared Armstrong, who was joined by Martin Erat and Jeff Woywitka on the Rebels team helmed by Brent Sutter behind the bench. “You see what it takes – every team, every player, every role has to fall into place, and you gain depth and your experience through making that work. There are ups and downs, coaches are getting on you, or aren’t leaving you alone; it’s a long push and a battle, so you take those things with you for sure.”
According to Armstrong, more than a few of the elements that brought the Rebels success in their 2000-01 campaign are things he sees mirrored around his current team’s dressing room.
“I see a good, balanced group. A lot of guys, myself included, were successful because we had a good team. I think you see that here with a lot of guys,” concluded Armstrong. “It takes a good balance throughout your lineup. We’ve got four lines that can play and our D are all solid, too. Obviously, between the pipes, with both guys, we’re looking pretty good back there. I think it’s just a matter of putting it all together.”
Justin Fragapane is a writer for canadiens.com.
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