The hockey world is mourning the loss of one of the most successful coaches in NHL history.
The New York Islanders have announced that Al Arbour, the franchise’s most storied coach, passed away Friday at 82. Before his passing, Arbour was battling Parkinson’s disease and dementia at a hospice in Sarasota, Fla.
“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 GM 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.”
Arbour rose to fame as the mind behind the Islanders dynasty of the 1980s. For 20 seasons, including four consecutive Stanley Cup championships, Arbour patrolled the bench for Islanders.
When Arbour first came to the Islanders in 1973-74, the club turned in a record of 19-41-18, finishing with 56 points and in the basement of the then-East Division. The only team worse was the West Division’s California Golden Seals, but in the span of one off-season, with additions such as Clark Gillies, J.P. Parise, Bob Bourne and Bryan Trottier, Arbour helped turn the Islanders into a playoff team. The steady rise of the Islanders began, and by 1978-79 Arbour had captured the Jack Adams Award as coach of the year.
The following season, 1979-80, the Islanders captured their first Stanley Cup. And in 1980-81, they won their second. The two following seasons, the Islanders again ascended to the top of the NHL, capturing a total of four consecutive championships. Thanks to his incredible ability, Arbour went on to become the second-winningest coach in league history with 782 wins to his name. He also guided the Islanders to 19 consecutive post-season series victories, a record that isn't likely to be broken.
In 2007-08, at age 75, Arbour stepped back behind the Islanders bench for one more game as the Islanders bench boss. The one game — which the Islanders won — was Arbour’s 1,500th game as coach of his beloved Islanders. It was the 20th season in which he had coached a game for the franchise.
During his playing days, Arbour’s success was equally impressive. Over a career that spanned 14 seasons, Arbour wasn’t an offensive dynamo, but he was a steady defenseman. Coincidentally, it was during his playing days that his first run of championships began. After winning the Stanley Cup with the 1960-61 Chicago Black Hawks, Arbour went on to two more titles with the 1961-62 and 1963-64 Toronto Maple Leafs. He would have had another four-peat, but injuries kept him out of the 1962-63 post-season, another year which the Maple Leafs captured the Cup.
Arbour was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1996 in the builder category, and he will forever remain one of the most legendary coaches in NHL history.