A Jack Adams Award winner, one of the winningest coaches of all-time, and the leader of the New York Islanders’ early 1980s dynasty, Al Arbour made a profound impact on the game of hockey. When he passed away at the age of 82 on Friday, people from around the NHL were quick to talk about the man he was and share their admiration of him with the world.
“We did lose a great man,” Hall of Famer and three-time Norris Trophy winning defenseman Denis Potvin said, per NHL.com. “There’s so many things that I can say about Al. I first met him when I was 19 years old and he coached me for 13 consecutive years. I don’t know how many athletes who have had that pleasure. Al Arbour was a man that left us not only feeling like champions, but left us with a lot of great memories that we can carry on through life.
“Al used to say that negative energy that you’re feeling, turn it into a positive energy. That has never left me. I know many of my teammates must feel the very same way. He just never felt that anything was insurmountable.”
He wasn’t alone among the retired Islanders to have found memories of their former bench boss. Clark Gillies and Bobby Nystrom both used the term “father figure” to describe him. Kelly Hrudey said he was “kind of like a second dad to me” and added that he “always felt that Al cared for me.” Ray Ferraro told the Canadian Press that “Al never tried to be the man. He just was.”
It wasn’t just those that worked under him that worked under him that he left a mark on. The only man to win more NHL games than him, Scotty Bowman, had this to say about Arbour, “He was thorough. He had experience on good teams, he knew what it took to win. He was a no-nonsense guy. He laid down a plan, and you had to execute it.”
While Bowman possesses a lot of NHL coaching records, one that belongs to Arbour is the Islanders’ streak of 19 straight series wins, which is one record Bowman doesn’t think will be broken.
We’ll close with commissioner Gary Bettman’s statement:
“The National Hockey League deeply mourns the passing of Al Arbour, revered head coach of the dynastic New York Islanders.
“A four-time Stanley Cup champion as a player and a brilliant motivator and tactician as a coach, Al Arbour directed the Islanders’ rapid transformation from expansion team to NHL powerhouse — guiding them to four straight Stanley Cup championships, five consecutive appearances in the Stanley Cup Final and an astounding 19 consecutive playoff series victories. As it grieves the loss of a profound influence on coaching and on the game itself, the NHL sends its heartfelt condolences to Al’s family and friends, to his former teammates and to all the players he mentored.”