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Dual Citizenship: Al Arbour

by Andrea Nelson / Detroit Red Wings
Al Arbour began his Hockey Hall of Fame career as a 21-year-old defenseman with the Red Wings in 1953, when this photo was taken.

“Radar,” “Cinemascope,” you name it, Al Arbour heard it. His glasses often made him the talk of the town.

“I remember when I played in Providence in the American League, the kids would sing, 'When the Saints Come Marching in,’ ” Arbour once told The Hockey News. “Then they used to say, 'Radar, put those glasses on!' The Barney Google glasses. Those were the days, I'll tell ya."

Arbour was known for more than his glasses, though. The defenseman won the Stanley Cup as a Red Wing during his first NHL season. It was the first of many, but the championship win in Detroit was his favorite.

“The first time we won the Cup with the Red Wings we rolled it down Grand River with our nose,” Arbour recalled. “We don't do that anymore. Now they have a guy who checks the Cup, he's with the Cup all the time. You can't do anything with it. Except when I was with the (New York) Islanders, we had it at our house for a week and we had it in the back with all the flowers and it looked really good.”

Arbour won Stanley Cups in Chicago and Toronto before ending his playing career in St. Louis. He was the first captain in Blues’ history under legendary head coach Scotty Bowman. Bowman and Arbour helped St. Louis reach the Stanley Cup finals in each of the team’s first three seasons of existence.

The player succeeded the coach in 1970 when Arbour was named the head coach of the Blues. Two years later, he was lured to New York.

“Bill Torrey asked me if I would be interested in coaching the Islanders,” Arbour told the Hockey Hall of Fame. “I told him no. I said I had four kids and wouldn't want to move them to New York."

He quickly changed his mind after visiting The Big Apple. And the rest is history.

Under Arbour’s direction, the Islanders won four consecutive Stanley Cups from 1980 to 1983. New York also set records for consecutive regular-season victories, consecutive Stanley Cup finals victories and playoff series victories, cementing the team as one of the greatest dynasties in professional sports.

But one of Arbour’s greatest accomplishments came five years before the franchise won its first Stanley Cup. It was during the 1974-75 playoffs that the Islanders found themselves in a 3-0 deficit against the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Arbour had only one message for his team heading into Game 4.

“I just told the boys, 'If there's anyone who doesn't think we can win four in a row against Pittsburgh, please get the heck off the ice,’” Arbour told AOL News.

No one left. And New York rattled off four straight victories to reach the Stanley Cup finals. The Islanders lost to the Philadelphia Flyers in the finals, but Arbour’s team had made its point – and history, again.

The Hall of Fame inductee chose to end his spectacular career after the 1985-86 season and accepted a position in the Islanders’ front office. But after a disappointing start to the 1988-89 season, Arbour returned to the bench for six more years. He had coached 14,999 games for the Islanders at the time of his second retirement.

The number of games Arbour coached bothered Islanders head coach Ted Nolan, though. He thought Arbour deserved one more game. So on Nov. 3, 2007, Nolan’s wish was granted as Arbour returned to the bench to coach No. 1,500 with the Isanders.

“This is an incredible gesture by Ted and the Islanders," said Arbour at the time. “I am flattered that Ted thought of me and I wouldn't miss this night for the world. I told the team that I do not want any pre-game fanfare. I'm there to coach the game and help Ted and my Islanders try to earn two points against a very tough team."

At 75, Arbour became the oldest man to coach an NHL game. He also notched his 740th win that night as the Islanders beat the Penguins, 3-2.

Arbour’s career as a player and coach is decorated with accolades. He’s one of 11 players to win consecutive Stanley Cups with two different teams and one of 10 players to win the Cup with three different teams. He appeared in an NHL record 2,227 games as a player and coach, winning the Jack Adams Award as the NHL’s coach of the year in 1979 and the Lester Patrick Award in 1992 for his outstanding service to hockey.

No one was surprised when Arbour was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1996. It was the greatest honor to cap of a historic career that started in Hockeytown.

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