For suffering New York Islanders fans who want to fondly reflect back to their team's glory years, one way that is done is remembering legendary head coach Al Arbour. A man that had a huge role in the franchise winning four straight Stanley Cup titles from 1980 to 1983 returned to the bench on November 3rd to mark his 1,500th game as the Islanders head coach.
Although not all in succession, Arbour spent 19 seasons at the helm from 1973 to 1986 and then from 1988 to 1994. He amassed 739 wins during his two tours of duty, an NHL record for a coach with the same team.
Back in July, current head coach Ted Nolan approached general manager Garth Snow and team owner Charles Wang about the idea of having Arbour coach one game this season to round out his all-time games coached to exactly 1,500 games. They gladly approved and Arbour happily agreed to the one-game contract to run the bench with Nolan. Arbour said at a press conference prior to the milestone game that he did realize it would be #1500.
"I never kept track of the number of games I've coached," Arbour said. "I didn't have any idea until they had told me about it. It will be a special night for the alumni, the organization and everyone involved. I'd like to thank Ted, Garth and the owner for making this possible for me. It's a great thrill for my family and me to be back in our hometown of Long Island."
Inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame on November 25, 1996, Arbour has plenty of peers who have a high respect and appreciation for the legendary coach. One of them happens to be another held in such a regard, that being Scotty Bowman.
"As a coach, of course, Al Arbour put his stamp on the NHL forever. What he'll probably always be remembered for is how he molded a true TEAM. He had some brilliant players that had Hall of Fame careers like Denis Potvin, Billy Smith, Trottier, Bossy, Gillies," Bowman said a few days prior to the game. "But it was Al who got them to be part of the team fabric. If the all-stars do not buy in to Al's concept, the Islanders do not become a dynasty."
The Islanders were able to get Arbour his 740th victory in that 1,500th game with a 3-2 win over the Pittsburgh Penguins as Miroslav Satan scored twice in the third period to have a say in the outcome. The only blemish on the night was goaltender Rick DiPietro leaving the game in the second period after getting actually hit in the face on an accidental high stick from Sidney Crosby. DiPietro's backup Wade Dubielewicz finished the game and earned the victory. Trent Hunter also scored for the Islanders, who at the time improved their season record to 7-4.
After the game, the team had a wonderful ceremony to honor Arbour. His "739" banner inside the Nassau Veterans Memorial Coliseum was replaced by a new "1500" banner. All the current players and a number of alumni took part in the postgame event.
"I'm very touched with everything," said Arbour after the night was complete. "I was very surprised at the end when they raised the new banner. All of the fans staying until the very, very end, that really touched me quite a bit. I'd like to thank the organization for asking me to do this, and especially the players that worked so hard. Ted Nolan did a great job with the team, as well as general manager Garth Snow and owner Charles Wang. This is really my second home."
The script couldn't have been written any better for Arbour on this night. One thing is for sure, regardless of what the Islanders do in the years to come, he will always have a very important place in the history of the franchise.