Wayne Gretzky on Sunday remembered Al Arbour as one of the classiest men in hockey.
Arbour, who coached the New York Islanders to four straight Stanley Cup championships, died Friday at age 82.
"I don't know if hockey has ever had a classier man involved with the game," Gretzky told Newsday. "He was so well-respected. …
"My dad always said, 'One thing in life you can't do is buy respect.' You have to earn respect. Al was the kind of person who everybody really liked and gravitated to, but really respected. And the game of hockey is not the same today without him. Just a good man."
Gretzky played for the Edmonton Oilers who ended the Islanders' run of championships in the 1984 Stanley Cup Final. New York won its fourth championship by defeating Edmonton in the Final the year before.
"Even the first time we played the Islanders in the Stanley Cup Playoffs (a six-game series in 1981), one of the things we talked about before each and every game -- we were kids then, 19- and 20-year-old kids -- was always the same: 'This team is well-coached, this team is disciplined. We're not going to beat them just on skill because they're so well-coached,''' Gretzky said.
Inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1996, Arbour won the Stanley Cup four times as a player, with the Detroit Red Wings in 1954 (though he did not dress for a playoff game), with the Chicago Blackhawks in 1961, and with the Toronto Maple Leafs in 1962 and 1964.
His 782 regular-season coaching wins rank second in NHL history, behind Scotty Bowman's 1,244, and the Islanders won a record 19 consecutive playoff series under Arbour.
"Every player knows the respect factor that people have for someone like Al Arbour," Gretzky said, "a wonderful person who got respect from everybody who played with him, against him or for him."