Al Arbour was one of the rare players who wore eye glasses and no helmet during his playing career.
Despite his Clark Kent appearance Arbour was steady, savvy and consistent on the ice.
At the time no one could have imagined that he unarguably would be judged as one of the greatest coaches to over stand behind a NHL bench. Ironically Al performed his last few years as a player for Scotty Bowman playing for the St. Louis Blues.
In his career Scotty Bowman won more games but an argument could be made that if Arbour coached the same teams as Bowman he could have an even better record>
“It was Al’s personality that made him such an extraordinary ice boss; his ingenuity and genuine belief in his players was present in big games and in many big ways. He had the presence of mind to call timeouts when he thought his needed a rest. His use of timeouts started other coaches to utilize them.
Much like the NBA’s Pat Riley he had the ability to take superstar players and make them play better and play for the team. Arbour got New York Islander number one draft choice Denis Potvin to change his philosophy and blend his immense offensive skills with exceptional defensive presence. He also got Mike Bossy, another junior hockey sensation, to back check after he made the Islanders roster as a rookie straight from the Quebec League where back checking and defense were not hot items.
The Islanders were a reflection of their coach. They did not boast or brag. They won their titles with dignity and graciousness according to Stan Fischer who covered the Islanders and Rangers for many years.
Paul Coffey, who then played for the Edmonton Oilers once noted how he observed that the Islanders won quietly and learned from that display during his Stanley Cup years following the Islanders reign.
The Islanders had an extremely large amount of competence in all categories, including General Management, Scouting and player personnel, but it was Arbour that took a mixture of seasoned players, but it was Al who built a bridge between the entire organization and convinced his players to
“The beauty of Al as coach,” Resch recalled, “was that he was able to tame the egos. He made sure that Potvin played defense first before his natural instinct to score. He turned Bossy into a back checker when no one thought that feat possible. He made every one of his skaters a better player. That’s quite a trick.”
Arbour orchestrated 19 consecutive playoff series victories during the four-Cup-plus run from 1980 through 1984. It should be noted that no other coach will ever be able to make that statement.
A testament to Al Arbour’s ability to build a team wasn’t just evident during the Islanders Stanley Cup seasons, but way after they were over.
In the late 1990’s Arbour’s team participated in a charity game in Florida against NHL All-Stars such as Buy Lafluer, Marcel Dionne ,Brad Park, Gil Perreault, Rick Martin and Jocelyn Guevremont to name a few.
The Islanders were represented by Denis Potvin, Garry Howatt, Billy Smith, Jean Potvin, and Mike Bossy( who attended but did not play) and who was the coach?
It was Al Arbour.
Who won the game – The Islanders alumni.
Forever, Al Arbour will be remembered by me as one of a kind and one of the best coaches in NHL history.
Rest in peace Coach.