Rev. Stephen Donnelly raised a large photo of Al Arbour along the procession toward the altar. Arbour’s son Jay held the hand of his mom, Claire, as they walked behind Donnelly, and then came more family members. Meanwhile, several members of the Islanders’ family watched from the pews near the front.
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The photo of Arbour on the ice at Nassau Coliseum was placed before the altar, next to two symbols of his work with the Isles — the Stanley Cup and the Jack Adams Trophy, which honors each season’s top coach.
The memorial Mass for this Hall of Fame coach, who passed away at 82 last Aug. 28, was held Friday morning at St. Patrick’s in Huntington. The church where Al and Claire had worshipped soon became filled with laughter and tears, celebrating an impactful life.
“We truly loved the man,” said former goalie Glenn “Chico” Resch, part of the Islanders teams that won four straight Stanley Cup championships in the early 1980s. “He had that compassion and love for his players that I’d never seen before.”
Jean Potvin’s tough coach cried in front of him when the Islanders traded the defenseman. Resch said the same thing happened with him, and that the same thing occurred when Clark Gillies was claimed by Buffalo.
And now here was Gillies, the rugged Hall of Fame wing, shedding tears of his own. He gave the eulogy and grew emotional near the end.
But he also told some stories that drew laughs. There was the one about Arbour’s fear of flying. He would sit in the back row. Once, when the idea of sitting up in first class was mentioned, Arbour said, “When was the last time you saw a plane back into a mountain?”
Resch and Potvin were called up to do readings. Resch choked back tears at the altar, saying, “In my life, he had the greatest impact.”
Arbour coached the team from 1973-86 and 1988-94, plus one game in 2007. Potvin labeled Arbour “a second father” and a “psychologist” with the players.
Al and Claire were married for 60 years. They had four children, nine grandchildren and two great-grandchildren. But it’s different now for Claire in Florida.
“My life was just always geared for his needs,” she said after the service. “All of a sudden, now it’s just me. It’s a huge adjustment. There’s a huge empty space there. He was a living force.”