The room at the Fox Hollow Inn was filled with history, four decades of Islanders players united with fans to honor one special man, with an appropriate special guest sitting on a table — the Stanley Cup.
Al Arbour’s name is etched on it eight times, four for playing and four for coaching the Islanders.
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“He’d be embarrassed about the honoring of him, but he’d have loved to see the players,” said Jay Arbour, Al’s son. “They were all very close. They meant a lot to him.”
The Islanders alumni staged the event Thursday night in Woodbury to celebrate the life of the late coach, the Hall of Famer who guided the franchise to four straight Cups from 1980-83 and who passed away at 82 last August. There was a dinner and a Q&A, with the Islanders- Rangers game playing on TV screens.
The old Islanders and Arbour’s family will make it a two-day event with a public Mass for him at 9:45 Friday morning at Church of St. Patrick in Huntington. A private reception will follow.
Former center Pat LaFontaine, a primary organizer with former equipment manager Joey McMahon and former team VP Jim Johnson, called it a chance “to honor the Vince Lombardi of hockey. He impacted all of us in some way.”
After Arbour’s funeral in Florida, former captain Denis Potvin stressed to McMahon the need for a memorial event on Long Island. Proceeds went to the Al Arbour Fund, which benefits dementia, an illness that afflicted Arbour.
“I loved Al Arbour,” said Ri chard Dubi, a Dix Hills resident and former season-ticket holder who brought his 13-year-old son, Adam. “I had a chance to meet him once . . . He was the most gracious man.”
He knew how to motivate when he coached the Islanders from 1973-1986 and 1988-1994, plus his one-game comeback — game No. 1,500 and win No. 740 with them — in 2007.
Said Hall of Fame winger Clark Gillies, “He could be your best pal and he could give you the hardest kick in the butt that you’ve ever gotten.”
Bobby Nystrom, who scored the overtime goal that gave the Islanders their first Cup in 1980, remembered Arbour gathering his players on the ice at practice in Pittsburgh in 1975. They were down three games to none in the second round — a series they won in seven.
“He said, ‘If anyone here thinks that we’re not going to win this series, I want you to get off the ice right now,’ ” Ny strom said. “But what he said after that I think has been one of the things that really stuck with me my whole life. He said, ‘All you have to do is win one shift at a time, and if we win one shift at a time, we’re going to win this series.’ To me, that’s life.”
With the playoffs starting next week, for LaFontaine, this was the perfect time to honor Arbour. “I think the timing is pretty special,’’ he said, “because after this weekend, that’s when Al did his greatest work.”