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Longboat Key Wednesday, Sep. 2, 2015 6 years ago

Al Arbour: A champion on and off the rink

Al Arbour, 82, who won eight Stanley Cups as an NHL player and coach, died Aug. 28.
by: Kristen Herhold Community Editor

Al Arbour was a hockey great, but he wasn't loud about his accomplishments.

“He was a humble person,” said the Rev. Edward Pick, pastor emeritus of St. Mary, Star of the Sea, Catholic Church, where Arbour was a member. “He never once tried to appear important. He was an international celebrity, but you wouldn’t know it.”

Arbour, 82, of Longboat Key, died Aug. 28. He was one of just 10 players in NHL history to win the Stanley Cup with three different teams and went on to coach the New York Islanders.

Born Nov. 1, 1932 in Sudbury, Ontario, he played his first professional hockey game with the Detroit Red Wings in 1953 and won the Stanley Cup in 1954. He won the Stanley Cup three more times, once with the Chicago Blackhawks in 1961 and again with the Toronto Maple Leafs in 1962 and 1964. He spent his final four years as a player with the newly formed St. Louis Blues, from 1967 to 1970. 

Despite winning four Stanley Cups as a player, Arbour’s real success came as a coach.

In the middle of the 1970 season, Arbour was hired to coach the Blues, leading the team to a record of 42-40-25 and one playoff series win.

Arbour was hired as head coach of the New York Islanders in 1973, following the team’s disastrous first year in the National Hockey League, when it won only 12 games. His first season, the Islanders once again finished last in the league, but in 1974, the team placed third in its division, qualifying for the playoffs.

Arbour led the Islanders to a winning record every season from the 1974 until 1986. In 1980, the Islanders won its first Stanley Cup, a trend that continued for the next three seasons. No team in any major sport has won four straight championships since the 1983 Islanders.

With the Islanders, Arbour set the NHL record, which still stands today, for most consecutive playoff series wins at 19.

One of Arbour’s trademark coaching techniques was putting eggs in his players’ pockets.

“He was trying to make a statement that the game of hockey is a game of contact, and if players avoid checking and hitting each other, they’re not playing the best they can,” his wife, Claire Arbour, said. “If you hit someone, you’d break the egg. It was a nifty move to make them realize they need to start hitting more.”

Arbour retired following the 1986 season and served as vice president of player development for the Islanders.

In 1988, he returned to coach the Islanders. That season, the team missed the playoffs for the first time 14 years. He led his team back to the playoffs in 1993 and 1994 and retired again in 1994.

Arbour was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1996. In 2007, Arbour, then 75, returned to coach his 1,500th game for the Islanders. He became the oldest person to ever coach an NHL game. Arbour won his 740th game as an Islanders coach after beating the Pittsburgh Penguins, 3-2.

Behind current Blackhawks coach Scotty Bowman, as a coach, Arbour is second all time in regular games coached, at 1,607, regular season games won, at 782, playoff games coached, at 209, and playoff games won, at 123.

In April, the Islanders honored Arbour during its final regular season home game. Clair Arbour dropped the puck for her husband. The couple’s four children were also in attendance.

Arbour is survived by his wife of 60 years, Claire; children, Jo-Anne, Jay, Julie and Janice; nine grandchildren; and two great-grandchildren.

“He was a champion,” the Rev. Pick said. “Not just in the sports world, but he was a champion husband, a champion father, a champion parishioner and a champion person.”

A funeral was held Aug. 31, at St. Mary, Star of the Sea, Catholic Church. Donations can be made to the Pines Foundation of Sarasota, 1501 N. Orange Ave., Sarasota, FL 34236.


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