Neil Armstrong was like any Canadian boy, playing minor hockey in Galt, Ontario (now Cambridge) but not quite skilled enough to make it to the NHL. He was offered a chance to officiate a game in the same league in which he was playing, an offer he accepted, and went on to earn his OHA certification. Neil quickly rose through the ranks. During the 1957-58 OHA season, he worked over 100 games as either a referee or a linesman, including the 1958 Memorial Cup championship between Ottawa and Regina, a series Ottawa won four games to two.
On November 16, 1957, just 24 years of age and without any experience at the minor professional level, Armstrong made his NHL debut in a game between the Toronto Maple Leafs and Boston Bruins at Maple Leaf Gardens in Toronto. The game broke into a brawl near the end of the third period. Boston''s Fern Flaman skated up to Armstrong, who had broken up a fight in which he was involved, and with his arm dangling, screamed, "You broke my arm!" Scared, Armstrong didn''t move, but Flaman soon burst into laughter as he moved his arm freely.
During his 21-year NHL career, Armstrong worked 1,744 regular season games and 208 Stanley Cup playoff games, including 48 games in 18 consecutive Stanley Cup Final series between 1959 and 1977. He also was selected as a linesman in ten All-Star Games.
In Montreal on October 16, 1973, Neil Armstrong broke George Hayes''s record of officiating 1,313 games and was presented with a cheque for $1314.00 by NHL Executive Director Brian O''Neill. The amount equaled the number of games he had worked as an NHL linesman breaking into the league in 1957.
During his NHL career, Armstrong sustained just one serious injury, although not bad enough to force him to miss any games. In 1971, Gary Dornhoefer of the Philadelphia Flyers fell awkwardly along the boards, with Armstrong up against the glass. The player''s stick cut Armstrong''s hand and broke a bone, forcing him to wear a cast for three months. For his remarkable string of appearances, he was nicknamed "Ironman." Former NHL Referee-in-Chief Ian "Scotty" Morrison once commented on Armstrong''s durability, stating, "Neil''s dedication to his profession and pride in his personal performance has always been outstanding".
Armstrong claimed that respect and a good rapport with players were the biggest assets any official could have. The key was to be honest with the players. If an official made a mistake, you had to admit it. You had to earn the respect of the players.
Neil Armstrong retired in 1978 and turned to scouting, joining the Montreal Canadiens. Throughout his career, he was also a golf pro at the Sarnia Golf and Curling Club in the summer, a pastime he carried into his retirement.