© Jason Malloy/The Guardian
Nelson Armstrong is in his second season patrolling the UPEI Panthers blue-line. He has four goals and nine assists in 21 games this season.
Nelson Armstrong is quiet and reserved in the dressing room, on the bus and around campus.
"When he clicks his chinstrap, it's game on," UPEI Panthers men's hockey coach Forbes MacPherson said Tuesday. "All of a sudden his communication goes through the roof."
He's talking to his teammates on the bench or asking questions of the coaching staff.
MacPherson said Armstrong was really good in his first season with the Panthers in 2014-15, but has taken his game to another level this season.
"When you break down Armie's game, he's just very hard to play against. He's a nasty defenceman," MacPherson said.
The head coach compared Armstrong to former Panthers Matt Boyle and Harrison McIver for the intensity he brings to the team.
"They play every shift like it's their last. You can't teach that, it's DNA."
Armstrong is all business.
He played junior A in his hometown of Peterborough, Ont., in Grade 11 and 12 before going to St. Lawrence University in Canton, N.Y., on scholarship for a year and a half.
Armstrong said things didn't work out and he ended up going home and playing a year and a half with the OHL's Peterborough Petes.
A UPEI alumnus, who is an NHL scout, connected Armstrong and MacPherson and the two spoke about him becoming a Panther.
"I came out to visit, really liked it and decided to come," Armstrong said, noting the competitive team and small campus were part of the factors.
He looked at pro options, but said the pull to complete the degree he started was too hard to pass up.
MacPherson said he anticipates the chance to play pro will be there for Armstrong when the economics major graduates.
"He plays a pro game," the coach said. "To me, he's what a defenceman looks like and plays like. He competes super hard (and) he's super intense."
The Panthers have dressed five defencemen at times this season, and Armstrong has played 30-plus minutes on occasion.
He has gained the confidence of the coaching staff to play in any situation.
He has often been paired with freshman Ryan MacKinnon, who said Armstrong has helped him transition from major junior to the university game. He added the second-year Panther means a lot to the squad.
"Whether it is contributing offensively or keeping the puck out of our net, he seems to do it all," MacKinnon said.
"He may not get all the credit he deserves, but in the dressing room we all have faith in him. He's definitely a guy we can rely on."
The Panthers (10-9-2) host Moncton (8-11-2) tonight at 7 p.m. in the first of three games this week. UPEI has dealt with a slew of injuries to key guys this season, but finds itself fifth in the eight-team conference and battling for one of the three remaining playoff spots.
"We've gone through a lot of adversity this season, but we've been pretty resilient," Armstrong said. "We're definitely short guys, but everybody is playing hard and we're managing to squeak out wins and points.
"We're doing pretty well considering the amount, and severity, of injuries we've had."
The Panthers complete the week with road games Friday at UNB and Saturday at St. Thomas.
Did you know?
Atlantic University Sport (AUS) and Bell Aliant have joined forces for today's sixth annual Bell Let’s Talk Day.
The first few hundred fans at each of tonight's four AUS men's hockey games will receive a Bell Let’s Talk toque. Stations will also be set up at each venue where fans can participate by creating personalized speech bubbles, taking photos to share on social media and signing banners to show their support. It includes UPEI hosting Moncton at 7 p.m.