The Pittsburgh Penguins first round pick in the 2001 draft and third-year pro Colby Armstrong is having his best ever season with the AHL Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins. The 22-year-old winger has set career highs in goals and assists, and has been one of the best players for the Baby Penguins all season long.
Armstrong spoke to Hockey’s Future as the Penguins prepare to take on the Binghamton Senators in their opening series of the Calder Cup playoffs.
HF: You’ve had a sensational year, what do you think has been the difference for you this season?
CA: I made a lot of steps in the summer, and that was one of my biggest knocks, my strength and my size. So I think I got a lot stronger this summer and it’s something I can obviously improve on more, but I think that helped me a lot this year.
HF: Tell us about the combination you struck up this year with Ramzi Abid and Shane Endicott?
CA: We got put together about 20 games into the season and from then on we were rolling pretty good, the three of us together. Ramzi’s a big strong guy the same as Shane, and they are good players obviously. I think they will both probably play in the NHL and it’s pretty good to play with guys like that. They know what they are doing out there, they make good plays, they make things happen and they are big guys who get the puck to the net. So for me to play with them was kind of easy, just trying to get open and let them work the puck and get the puck to me and just go to the net. We weren’t that fancy of a line, just pretty simple.
HF: You are now somewhat of a young veteran on the team, what is your impression on some of the talented rookies that you have played alongside this season?
CA: Yeah definitely, I’m only 22 years old but this is my third year here. It’s kind of crazy it’s going by pretty quick. I’ve got a lot of responsibilities this year as an older guy, and looking back to my first year coming into this league, I can see guys like Erik Christensen and Maxime Talbot and Ben Eaves and these guys coming in. Looking at Christensen’s year he’s a really skilled player and Talbot’s out there, he’s not quite as skilled as Christensen but he’s one of the hardest working players on the team for sure, hands down. So looking at these guys coming in, they are doing pretty well for themselves for their first year, especially the way the league is this year.
HF: Many experts believe that you may have a good shot of making it to the NHL when it resumes, how do you feel you could contribute if given the shot?
CA: Well, I’m not sure I haven’t really thought about that yet especially since the lockout this year. I think if I can go back and have another good summer and get stronger and hopefully I can step in as a pretty big part of the team. But I’ll play however they want me to because I feel like I can play any style. I’m a good two-way player and I think I can bring some hard work and some grit and at the same time I can chip in offensively and be a good solid defensive guy too. So I mean wherever they want to fit me in, if I can crack the team that would be great.
HF: On to the playoffs, how is everybody feeling in the lead-up to game one on Friday night?
CA: I think we are pretty well rested now. We had a pretty tough schedule ending this season but as of late we’ve had a couple of weeks off pretty much just playing on the weekends. So now after having this week off and leading into the big playoff match-up against our rivals just down the road, I think the guys are pretty rested and it’s just a matter of staying focused and being ready to go.
HF: Binghamton have had the wood on the Penguins in the last few games between the two teams, is there something in particular that Coach Therrien has spoken about this week where he feels the Penguins can find an advantage?
CA: I think one thing we can do a lot better is play them a lot tighter and a lot harder, I mean they’ve obviously got one of the best team’s in the league and a lot of the best players in the league if you look at their line-up. So I think one thing is just checking them a little tighter, whether it be our forecheck or our defensive zone, its not giving them so much room to make their plays because they can skate and move the puck pretty well. So we’ve been working on our forecheck and our D-zone coverage and our transition game as well, coming at them with speed so that’s some of the things we’ve been working on this week and obviously we need to get better if we’re going to have a chance to beat Binghamton.
HF: Tell us about the effect of the marvellous crowds you always have at Wachovia Arena?
CA: Oh yeah definitely, we have probably some of the best fans in the league and one of the best arenas to play in too so it gets pretty rockin’ in the playoffs, I know from last year. But definitely it helps out when you hear the crowd, and it gives you a little bit of shivers before the game when you hear them going pretty nuts. And we have the white-out and everything. Everyone comes in their white jerseys and white shirts and there is some good electricity in the building I guess you could say. It gets me going, I think it gets a lot of guys going so it’s a big help. Same with Bingo, going down to Binghamton, they have a little bit smaller rink but they’ve got a loud crowd, and it’s going to be a big thing for them too so any time you can get the home ice advantage is huge.
HF: Moving onto some questions more about yourself, who was your hockey idol growing up?
CA: When I was growing up I had a bunch, I kept switching all the time. But I think one main guy was Wayne Gretzky when I was growing up. I don’t know, I think just because my Dad liked him and my Aunty and Uncle were big fans of the Oilers. And he’s Wayne Gretzky too, one of the best players ever to play obviously, so he was probably my favorite player growing up. I switched it off to Forsberg and Modano every once in a while later on, so I’ve had a few favorite players I’ve looked up to over the years.
HF: Well how does it feel now that kids would look up to you?
CA: Yeah I know, it’s kind of strange. I’ve never really thought about it (laughs). I just try and work hard out there and be a good role model I guess for kids that look up to me, and just try and make a good impression on everybody.
HF: What is your favorite non-hockey sports team that you follow?
CA: My brother plays in Cleveland so I like to watch the Cavaliers and LeBron James. I’m not much of a basketball fan but I think LeBron James is something else to watch. So I watch the highlights every day on ESPN, and kind of keeping track of them. And having my brother in Cleveland makes it a little easier and I see the guys at the Arena all the time so it’s kind of neat to check them out.
HF: Finally, who’s the craziest guy in the locker room?
CA: I think I’m pretty up there, I don’t mean to brag or anything (laughs). Other than me though I think we’ve got a guy, Maxime Talbot, rookie, man this guy is off the wall. He’s pretty much out of control. He’s always got something going, I don’t know what is going on in his head sometimes, but I’m pretty sure he would say the same about me sometimes. I mean this guy is one of the wackiest guys I’ve ever played with and he’s a great guy to be around and fun to have in the room and a good guy to know.
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