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Colleagues, proteges remember Arbour's influence

by Brian Compton

The hockey world lost a true legend on Friday when former New York Islanders coach Al Arbour passed away at the age of 82.

Arbour, who won the Stanley Cup four times as a player (Detroit Red Wings in 1954, Chicago Blackhawks in 1961 and the Toronto Maple Leafs in 1962 and 1964), guided the Islanders to 19 consecutive series victories in the Stanley Cup Playoffs from 1980-84 and four straight championships (1980-83).

Here are reflections from some of the people Arbour impacted over the course of his career:

Bill Torrey (Islanders general manager, 1972-92): "Al Arbour was a special person, he was a special man. He was a great family man, a great hockey man. Outside of his family, nothing came or was more important to him than his players and his team. Hockey was a major part of his life."

Denis Potvin (Islanders defenseman, 1973-88): "We did lose a great man. 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."

Clark Gillies (Islanders forward, 1974-86): "He means the world to me. He was like a real father figure to all of us. We were a bunch of young kids, it was like having 20 young boys in the family and he was the father that kept us all under control.

"He was able to really guide us around. He just knew everybody's personality, knew what made everybody click. He was able to get the best out of each and every one of us. I think that was because of the respect that we had for him and his knowledge of the game."

Bobby Nystrom (Islanders forward, 1972-86): "It's a sad day for the NHL and the Islanders. I told Al a while back that I think about him regularly because he basically changed my life. He was such an inspiration and he was such a teacher. He was like a father figure to many of us. Al was a great man. I'm just so thankful I had the opportunity to play for him. He was special, there's no question about it. Just a special, special guy."

Pat LaFontaine (Islanders forward, 1983-91): "We all have different memories, but the respect for Al … I always said if you could make it through Al Arbour's boot camp for two, three years, you're going to play 15 years because he really prepared you. Nothing was handed to you. You had to earn your ice, you had to earn your keep. He went about it in a way that he was tough, but you also knew that he really cared about you.

"I was very lucky. I look at him and he's the Vince Lombardi of the National Hockey League, along with Scotty Bowman and a few coaches that have been around. He was that great and that special of a man and coach."

Kelly Hrudey (Islanders goaltender, 1983-89): "He was kind of like a second dad to me. I just found Al to be a really unique coach. He treated us all differently. He knew how to get the best out of us. At the end of every day, I always felt that Al cared for me. That's a special way for a coach to get a message across."

Butch Goring (Islanders forward, 1980-85): "Al had a tremendous influence on me. I had a lot different look than most players because Al took me under his wing and gave me an opportunity to be an assistant coach. For me, it was unique to be able to get into the coach's room at different times and stand behind the bench with him. I learned a lot from him, particularly how to handle people and how to handle your players and how to evaluate them. Not only did I have the opportunity to play for Al and win four Cups, but to have that little insight, that extra insight, was just tremendous."

Mick Vukota (Islanders forward, 1987-97): "Every little thing he did was with integrity, with sincerity, genuine care for the individual. When it got to the rink and running a team and being the boss, he was specific, clear, what he demanded, what he expected.

"You were so grateful to be around him, whether it was just sitting in the airport, unless he called you in his office. That wasn't always good."

Ray Ferraro (Islanders forward, 1990-95): "I broke my ankle in December of 1992. I missed the next three months and came back with six games left in the regular season and predictably I wasn't very good. With three games left, he called me into his office. I literally got two feet inside his office. He said, 'You've got three games to get going. If you can't get going, you're going to be sitting with [Arbour's wife] Claire. She's been sitting in the same seats for 22 years.'

"I played OK in those three games, but I scored 13 goals in 18 games in the playoffs. He told me I wasn't playing well, he gave me a chance to redeem myself, and because he did and I responded, I was just filled with confidence. Any player in any sport, the only chance you have is when you're confident, and he gave that to me."


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