'88's Eight: Hockey Freshmen

Strong-Arm Tactics

Harvard Coach Bill Cleary likes his teams to skate.

Hockey, as Cleary, likes to say, is too good a game to be played any other way.

Freshman Steve Armstrong, however, does not consider himself an especially nimble skater.

"I just can't take the puck and dance around people."

But while Armstrong will never win any ice-dancing competitions and will never approach some of his Crimson teammates in raw speed and quickness, he has a quality that Cleary values more than agility.

"He's a tough kid," Cleary says. "He'll do anything, he's always blocking shots and he's a pretty good center iceman."

Steve's toughness is not unique in the Armstrong family by any means In fact, he comes from an Ithaca. N.Y., family that has been giving and taking knocks on the ice for years.

All four of Steve's older brothers played college hockey with the same intensity that the youngest son exhibits and one parlayed his attitude and skills into a season with the 1982-83 U.S. National team and a short minor league career.

Clarkson, which stresses a tight checking game that seems more suitable for the Armstrong attitude, lured brothers Jim and Bob. Bob earned All-American honors at the the school, but even Bob was known for his hard work, not his precise skating skills.

"The best skater in my family is probably my little sister," Steve says.

And the best skaters in the East play for Harvard. But even the Crimson needs players like Armstrong to play equally vital, though less glamorous roles.

"A lot of people shied away from Steve because they didn't think he was fast enough," Clearly says. "He's no speed merchant, but we're not all roadrunners here, either."

Armstrong may not be a roadrunner but Steve and linemates Rick Haney and Peter Follows have been some busy coyotes.

"That line has played extremely well," Cleary says of a unit that has become more than just a trio that kills time while the top two lines rest.

"I like playing on that line," Armstrong adds. "We don't have any incredible talent, we just work our hardest every time we're on the ice."