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Hall of Fame coach Al Arbour dies at 82

by John Kreiser

Al Arbour, who coached the New York Islanders to four consecutive Stanley Cup championships in the early 1980s, died Friday at the age of 82.

Arbour was being treated for Parkinson's disease and dementia near his home in Sarasota, Fla. His death was confirmed by the Islanders.

"Al will always be remembered as one of, if not, the greatest coaches ever to stand behind a bench in the history of the National Hockey League," Islanders president and general manager Garth Snow said in a statement. "The New York Islanders franchise has four Stanley Cups to its name thanks in large part to Al's incredible efforts. From his innovative coaching methods to his humble way of life away from the game, Al is one of the reasons the New York Islanders are a historic franchise. On behalf of the entire organization we send our deepest condolences to the entire Arbour family."

NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman released the following 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."

Inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1996, Arbour also 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.

With a roster that included future Hall of Fame members Billy Smith, Denis Potvin, Bryan Trottier, Mike Bossy and Clark Gillies, the Islanders won the Stanley Cup in 1980, '81, '82 and '83. They made the Final in 1984 but lost to the Edmonton Oilers in five games, ending a streak of 19 consecutive playoff series victories, a record in professional sports.

"Al was a great motivator. He was probably our father figure in the fact that we all respected him so much," Trottier said in a 2014 radio interview. "He had a great command of the room and at the same time he had a big man's presence.

"He had won a lot of Stanley Cups as a player with several different teams, he played with great players, so he always brought that credibility with him. For us to sit down with him 1-on-1 or when he was in front of us as a team, he had a great presence.

"We loved the man."

Born on Nov. 1, 1932, in Sudbury, Ontario, Arbour was nicknamed "Radar" (he was one of the few players in NHL history to wear glasses on the ice). He spent 19 years in professional hockey as a player, most of it in the minors. He had three stints with the Red Wings before becoming a full-time player in 1957-58, then went to the Blackhawks in the intra-league draft the following season.

The Blackhawks were a team on the rise, and Arbour, a defensive defenseman, was there for the payoff in 1961 when Chicago won its first Stanley Cup since 1938. He was claimed by the Maple Leafs and won another title the next season. Arbour spent most of the next four seasons with the Maple Leafs' American Hockey League affiliate, the Rochester Americans, though he won another championship in 1964 as a member of the Maple Leafs' third consecutive Cup-winning team.

Arbour became a full-time NHL player again at age 36 when he was taken by the St. Louis Blues in the expansion draft in 1967. He helped the Blues to the Stanley Cup Final in each of their first three seasons before retiring early in the 1970-71 season having played 626 NHL games.

He succeeded Scotty Bowman as Blues coach and coached parts of three seasons before being let go early in 1972-73. But Arbour wasn't out of work for long. New York general manager Bill Torrey, who knew Arbour from his AHL days, hired him to coach the Islanders in the franchise's second season.

"I had known Al for a long time," Torrey said during a 2011 interview. "There are some people -- you just have a sense or a feel that they fit the situation. I think the most important thing we were looking at immediately was to rebuild our defense.

"There wasn't anyone available who in my judgment had better qualifications to build a defense than Al Arbour had."

The Islanders went 12-60-6 for 30 points in their first season, and allowed 347 goals. With Arbour in charge the Islanders won seven more games and cut their goals-allowed total by 100. By 1974-75, he had them in the Stanley Cup Semifinals after a first-round upset of the New York Rangers and a historic second-round victory against the Pittsburgh Penguins that saw the Islanders become the second team in NHL history to rally from a 3-0 deficit to win a playoff series.

The Islanders finished with more than 100 points in each of the next four seasons, but they were defeated in the semifinals three times, twice by the Montreal Canadiens and in 1979 by the Rangers after the Islanders ended the Canadiens' reign as regular-season champions.

The Islanders floundered for much of the 1979-80 season, but the late-season additions of Butch Goring and Ken Morrow filled two key holes. They defeated the Los Angeles Kings, Boston Bruins and Buffalo Sabres to make the Stanley Cup Final for the first time, then upset the Philadelphia Flyers in six games for their first championship.

The Islanders defeated the Minnesota North Stars in the Final in 1981, the Vancouver Canucks in 1982 and the Oilers in 1983. They returned to the Final in 1984 but came up short in their bid for a fifth consecutive Stanley Cup.

Arbour led the Islanders back to the Stanley Cup Playoffs in 1985 and 1986 but announced his retirement after New York was eliminated by the Washington Capitals three years after his dynasty's final championship.

The retirement was brief; he was back behind the bench in December 1988 at the request of Torrey after the Islanders fell to last place. Torrey and Arbour slowly rebuilt the Islanders into a Stanley Cup semifinalist in 1993, ending the Penguins' quest for a third straight Cup in the process. But after the Rangers swept the Islanders in the opening round of the playoffs in 1994, Arbour retired again and was inducted into the Hall of Fame two years later.

Arbour had coached 1,499 games with the Islanders. He made it 1,500 when he returned for one game, Nov. 3, 2007, two days after his 75th birthday, at the behest of coach Ted Nolan and general manager Garth Snow. The 3-2 win against the Penguins was Arbour's 740th with the Islanders, the most by any NHL coach with one team, and his 782nd overall, more than anyone except Bowman (1,244), his friend and mentor.

"This is an incredible gesture by Ted and the Islanders," Arbour said at the time. "I am flattered that Ted thought of me."

Arbour won the Jack Adams Award as NHL coach of the year following the 1978-79 season and was a 1992 recipient of the Lester Patrick Trophy for contributions to hockey in the United States.

"He was the best coach I ever played for," Ray Ferraro, a center with the 1993 team and now an analyst for TSN, told in 2012. "Al had the best feel for what the player needed or could handle, a kick in the [rear] or pat on the back ... he knew which [to use]."

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