Immediately after legendary New York Islanders coach Al Arbour died last summer, Islanders alumni began discussions about holding an event in his honor. They owed it to him for everything he'd done, for the organization and each individual who had the chance to play for him.
They wanted to celebrate Arbour's career, his life, his family, the hundreds of players he guided over the 19 seasons he spent in New York, which featured four consecutive Stanley Cup championships, five straight trips to the Stanley Cup Final and 19 playoff series wins in a row.
On Thursday, Islanders alumni across four decades will gather at the Fox Hollow Inn in Woodbury, N.Y., to share their stories about the Hockey Hall of Fame coach. A VIP reception begins at 6 p.m. ET, followed by a celebration from 7-11 p.m. that will include the Stanley Cup on display, as well as the Jack Adams Award, which Arbour won as the NHL's top coach in 1979.
Former players expected to attend include Clark Gillies, Bob Nystrom, Pat LaFontaine, John Tonelli, Darius Kasparaitis, Pierre Turgeon, Patrick Flatley, Benoit Hogue, Ken Morrow, Jean Potvin, Gerry Hart, Mick Vukota, Chico Resch, Derek King, Bob Bourne, Brian Mullen, Brad Dalgarno, Garry Howatt, Claude Lapointe and Steve Webb. Hall of Fame announcer Jiggs McDonald will be master of ceremonies.
Arbour died in Florida on Aug. 28, 2015. He was 82. His wife, Claire, is expected to attend the event.
"We were always planning to have some sort of an event up here," said Nystrom, whose overtime goal in 1980 gave Arbour and the Islanders their first Stanley Cup championship. "This is where Al coached and this is where we all played. Needless to say, we think this would be an ideal place to memorialize him."
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Gillies, a Hall of Fame forward who began playing for Arbour in 1974, will be in attendance Thursday and give a eulogy for Arbour at a memorial service Friday morning.
"That could be a little bit of a tough task," Gillies said. "Not from a story standpoint; I assumed they were going to ask me. I've been jotting things down and thinking about it for a long time. It'll be fun. I have some funny stuff, and obviously there will be some emotional stuff. We'll get through it. I'm very proud to be chosen to do that. I'll try to keep it light, but I'm not sure I'll be able to keep it light all the way through, that's for sure."
Arbour won 739 games for the Islanders over two coaching stints between 1974 and 1994. In 2007, he won his 740th game when he was brought back to Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum for one game against the Pittsburgh Penguins.
Nystrom said among the stories he'll tell Thursday is one that demonstrates Arbour's ability to get players to the next level.
"At least in my personal opinion, Al the coach is the one that had the biggest impact on all of us," Nystrom said. "I think that if you ask 90 percent of the guys that played for him, he motivated them to I think greater heights. It's just about learning about life and things like that.
"Al was pretty much reclusive on his personal side. I mean, we had some funny stories about him, believe me. But I think it's the Al side where we shared everything -- the locker room, the ice, behind the bench and everything like that."
"I think the guys will just have a lot of stories about Al," Gillies said. "Al was a regular guy. We were fortunate that he was a player for 15, 16 years in the NHL. The interesting part about Al was he knew every step we took."
Joe McMahon, who worked for the Islanders for two decades, starting as a stick boy in 1983 at the age of 15 and later on as an equipment manager, played a huge role in helping the event become a reality. For McMahon, it's a chance for everyone involved to show the Arbour family just how important he was to the Islanders family.
"He was just a special, special man," McMahon said. "That's why the alumni were devastated when he passed. We needed to bond together as an alumni to put this event on for Claire and the kids, just so they could see the love and the impact that Al had on everybody.
"He's just a wonderful man and I'm honored to have worked with him and to be so close to the family as I am. The alumni has really come together for this, and this is really going to be a wonderful event."
For more information or to purchase tickets for the event, visit http://www.alarbour.com. All net proceeds will benefit the Al Arbour Fund.