After graduating top of his economics class at University of Prince Edward Island, Nelson Armstrong is ready to chase his pro hockey dreams.
The Peterborough native and former Petes’ defenceman has signed to play for the ECHL’s Florida Everblades this season. Armstrong, 23, played the past three seasons for the UPEI Islanders before a 12-game tryout with Florida at the end of last season.
“My coach at UPEI and the coach in Florida knew each other and I connected with them through that,” said Armstrong, who was attracted to the idea of playing hockey in sunny Florida
He had four assists in 12 games before returning to UPEI to write his exams. Armstrong was not on the Everblades’ playoff roster so his time there was brief but enough to make an impression. The Everblades play in Estero near Fort Myers on the Gulf Coast.
“It was good to get a feel for what the league is all about,” said Armstrong. “It was kind of funny to be joining a team at the end of the year but it was a really good experience. I loved the location and my teammates were great and the coaching was very good. It’s one of the best programs in the ECHL. I was happy to sign there.
“It’s not terrible to show up to the arena in your shorts and t-shirt every day or to go in the pool after practice or to the beach or golf.”
He said he always hoped to pursue a pro hockey career but thought it was best to get his education first.
“I had two-and-a-half years of university left and I thought it was important that I get a degree before I started my pro hockey career. I was already halfway done it so I figured I’d grind it out for two or three more years and get that out of the way so I’d have something to fall back on after my hockey career is over which can end pretty quick for a lot of guys,” he said.
He had some tryout offers when he finished with the Petes but no solid contract offers.
“It was a tough decision at the time but I feel good about it now,” he said.
Now his focus can be 100 per cent on hockey.
“I want to take it as far as I can. I’d love to make the NHL still but all i can really do now is give it my best effort and play the best I can every night. Hopefully, it works out and if it doesn’t, I can get a job with my degree.”
While it may not have been the same as playing pro hockey, Armstrong said the quality of hockey in the Atlantic University Sport (AUS) was much better than he originally anticipated.
“I was very surprised just how competitive it was. It’s really close to professional hockey. There are only five teams in that league and they are all very competitive. The University of New Brunswick had healthy scratches who had more than 100 points in the OHL. My development out there certainly wasn’t lacking.”
Also signing with the Everblades last week was Armstrong’s former Petes teammate Clark Seymour who played two years in the ECHL for the Pittsburgh Penguinsaffiliate before going to Austria last season.
“I was super excited when I heard he signed,” said Armstrong. “I gave him a call. I’m pretty pumped.”
Armstrong played two years for the Peterborough Liftlock Stars before heading to St. Lawrence University in the NCAA. He left St. Lawrence in his second year to join the Petes where he played his final year-and-a-half of junior.