The National Lacrosse League is home to the best box lacrosse players in the world. They are at the top of their game, put on stellar athletic performances and have diehard, competitive attitudes.
With lacrosse action suspended until the pandemic has subsided, NLL players have been missing the game fiercely. Thankfully, they have stayed busy in their day-to-day lives. They’ve spent more time with friends and family, honed different types of skills, and remained grounded during this tumultuous moment in history.
Gloves Off is a 13-installment series that peels back the layers of our athletes to uncover more about their lifestyle and personal lives, learning about their hobbies, passions and more, with the goal of making them inherently more relatable to their fans.
Colton Armstrong has to play video games. Doctor’s orders.
It’s a form of rehab for the 25-year-old Halifax Thunderbirds’ defender. Armstrong tore a ligament in his thumb early in the 2019-2020 NLL season after his hand got stuck in an opponent’s helmet.
It wasn’t going to be a quick fix.
“The doctors said I could play as long as I taped it up and supported it properly, though there was no strength in it. If any cross check went to my thumb there was a lot of pain, but it was my first full season and I didn’t want to let either the team or myself down,” Armstrong says.
He didn’t have surgery to fix it until the pandemic had stalled the season, and by then there was nothing left of the ligament to fix, so Armstrong jokes that his thumb is now bionic. The ligament was reconstructed out of fibre wire and connected to a bolt in his thumb.
He was in a cast for six weeks, isolated in his apartment. When the cast came off, the doctor recommended he play video games to rebuild his strength.
“He said ‘start playing them, use your thumb, use your joystick.’ I had to ask him three or four times, ‘you want me to play video games?’”
It certainly helped him get the mobility and strength back in his hand, and even strengthened his already impeccable hand-eye coordination.
Overlooked in the NLL draft, Armstrong was a late bloomer. He was signed by the former Rochester Knighthawks midway through the 2018-19 season after a breakout performance with the Arena Lacrosse League’s Peterborough Timbermen. Now a transition specialist, he scored 17 goals and 11 assists in his last year with the Timbermen. After scoring a goal in his NLL debut, he accompanied the team to their new digs in Halifax.
“Halifax is amazing,” he says. “A lot of the fans didn’t know much about lacrosse, but we gave away 8000 tickets for the first scrimmage game and the building was full. They loved it and they kept coming back, especially after we kept getting the wins. It was unbelievable. We want to bring a championship to Halifax.
“It was ridiculous how smooth it was going, then the door just slammed in our faces. Lockdown and Covid, and we all panicked because we couldn’t do anything. It’s been hard.”
To help combat the isolation he felt during his rehab, Armstrong took a cue from teammate Jake Withers and started a Twitch channel (twitch.tv/armyjrr), where he plays Call of Duty Warzone (“and sometimes Fortnite,” he admits). He would absolutely play an NLL video game, as himself, should one be developed.
Twitch is a streaming service that caters primarily to gamers, allowing a player to broadcast their game to an audience. It’s an interactive platform that has really taken off over the last couple of years, especially since the pandemic hit, growing from 2.2 million active streamers in 2018 to 9.5 million active streamers currently.
Armstrong says it’s a good way to feel like you’re a part of a community and to combat the loneliness.
“Everyone’s watched everything on Netflix already during Covid. Twitch is awesome because its live, online and a whole new community.”
At 50 followers you become a Twitch Affiliate, and can make a bit of money while you stream. Armstrong currently has 75 followers and says if people subscribe to his channel through their Amazon Prime accounts, he’ll get a boost. A long-term goal is to become a Twitch Partner, but he’ll need 3000 subscribers for that.
“That’s a long time away but it would be cool to become a Partner and become more known and get that check mark beside my name.”
So far the experience has been positive for Armstrong.
“It’s been good!” he enthuses. “Friends can come in and hang out for a while and watch, or just drop in and say hi. It’s good to be able to interact with them in this way during the pandemic. If I get killed in the game my friends will chirp me, tell me I’m trash, which brings my competitive lacrosse side out and makes me want to be better so I’ll start showing off.”
He got some good advice from Withers, and also brainstorms with fellow streamers, who he says are incredibly kind and helpful to those just starting out.
“It’s cool to learn from them and see how they communicate with their community, big names like Nickmercs. For Twitch you need a fast computer, with a lot more components inside your computer than one you can buy from a store, so I have a custom built PC. They’ll tell you what they have and give you advice on how you can make your setup better.”
He didn’t just build his own computer; Armstrong is also busy building a cottage with his brother-in-law. They recently started their own construction company and already have a client. They’re in the planning stages, which includes creating blueprints and procuring the building materials. Once they’re ready, he and his brother-in-law will do all the physical construction work themselves.
They want it to be done by summer. It’ll require a lot of man power, which will help Armstrong stay in shape and train for his next season with the Thunderbirds.
He says that, for him, there’s a lot of crossover between construction and lacrosse.
“I’m a hands-on learner and that’s a big thing in lacrosse. Obviously you can draw up a play but I’d rather run through the drill and have someone show me. That’s how I found my passion for construction; I can learn how to cut roofs or read a blue print because someone can show me and then I can mimic them.”
It’s a hobby he trained for in Fleming College’s carpentry technician program, and he now sees his projects as a point of pride.
“You start with some dirt, and then you dig a hole and pour the foundation, build some walls, put the roof on and you have this whole transformation. When your client smiles after the house is done, seeing the happiness in their face is awesome.”