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Armstrong relishing role as LAKHSHL’s coaching director

 

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During his 14-year NHL career with the Islanders, Senators, Rangers, Kings and Blues, Derek Armstrong was known as one of the most passionate players in the league, playing with an exuberance that showed every time he stepped on the ice.

The former standout center is bringing that same love for the game to his new role as the director of coaching curriculum for the LA Kings High School Hockey League (LAKHSHL). While he assisted with the league in an unofficial capacity in its first season last year, he signed on for the new position in July and has since been sharing not only his passion, but his deep knowledge of the game with coaches and players throughout the growing league.

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“Hockey has been good to me my entire life, so I’m trying to give back as much as possible,” Armstrong said. “Especially at this age group, kids are always looking for more coaching and guidance, and if I can spread my love of the game that’s been so good to me, that’s something that I want to do. We want kids to keep playing hockey as long as they possibly can. I think that’s what’s so great about this league.”

Armstrong’s duties involve overseeing coaching for the league’s 15 varsity and junior varsity teams, and he has taken an active role. He has already visited each varsity team once, and plans to see them each once more before season’s end. He’ll also schedule three sessions with all of the junior varsity squads. His drop-ins with teams consist of him getting on the ice with the players, working on new skills and bringing a fresh and different approach to practices. He’ll also talk with coaches, consult with them on what has been working and what hasn’t, and offer his insight and ideas on how best to help the players improve.

“I try to run practices to give the coaches a break, and I sort of se the expectations for how I think practices should be run on a day-to-day basis,” Armstrong said. “I like to keep the kids entertained as well as teaching them the skills they need to improve.”

Steve Henize was a linemate of Armstrong’s during the 2002-03 Kings season and enjoyed a 12-year career in the NHL. He coaches the Santa Barbara Royals to the league’s championship last year, and has the Royals leading the league again. He said Armstrong’s perspective has been invaluable.

“Just as he was as a teammate, Derek brings in a love and enjoyment of the game that puts a smile on everyone’s face,” Heinze said. “The kids are working hard, learning and getting better while having fun and enjoying it.

“Derek is a huge resource with his depth of knowledge. He can help us solve problems, tweak drills or show us new ways to develop skills as well as systems. There is always a new or different way to teach passing or stick handling or any skill, and Derek just has multitudes of ideas he can draw from. Derek’s ability to share his knowledge and expertise in a fun and engaging way may be his greatest strength.”

Heinze said his players have raved about their sessions with Armstrong, wanting to know when he was coming back and even going as far as to tell their head coach that Armstrong’s practices were way better than his.

Armstrong’s passion is clearly evident, and it’s not difficult to see that it’s having a positive effect on players and coaches in the LAKHSHL.

“Part of my job is to grow hockey in Southern California, and I think this has been a great way to do it,” he said. “It’s been really rewarding to get out on the ice with kids and see their smiles and their passion for the game.”

— Greg Ball