He was one of only a handful of professional athletes to wear glasses while playing and the last NHL player bespectacled on the ice. This multiple Stanley Cup winning defenseman skated for the Detroit Red Wings, Chicago Black Hawks, Toronto Maple Leafs and St. Louis Blues. But it is that coach with the eyeglasses standing behind his squad at the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum who is most remembered for leading the New York Islanders to four consecutive Stanley Cup victories during the team’s glory days. The man is Al Arbour, arguably among the most renowned coaches in the nearly 100 year history of the NFL.
The coach returns for number 1500
At the behest of then-coach Ted Nolan, 75 year old Arbour was brought out of retirement to lead his 1,500th game for the Isles. Back at the Nassau Coliseum, Arbour became the oldest man ever to guide an NHL team. It is no surprise that the team gave him win number 740, with a 3-2 victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins. It was a celebrated occasion, one that saw the 739 banner replaced by one with 1500 hanging from the Coliseum rafters. The icing on the proverbial cake: Arbour was joined not only by his family and the entire team, but Islander alumni–extraordinaire Mike Bossy, Brian Trottier, Pat LaFontaine and others.
His greatest challenge
Today, at the age of 81, Arbour faces one of his greatest challenges. Widely reported in the US and Canada, quoting former Islander Bryan Trottier, Arbor is “going through a little tough time with dementia right now.” Hall of Famer Trottier, one of the Isle’s stars under Coach Arbour, described the man in a New York Post article as, “… a great motivator. He was probably our father figure in the fact that we all respected him so much. He had a great command of the room and at the same time he had a big man’s presence.”
Fans will always remember Arbour’s smiling face and the pride he took in his boys who battled, finessed and wowed the crowds in the late 1970s and early 1980s as they watched their team soar, proudly skating in victory around the Nassau Coliseum ice with Lord Stanley’s Cup held high.