Al Arbour was remembered Monday with tears and laughter for having been a warm family man, a tough taskmaster and “a genius.” And the Islanders are sure he will be remembered forever. Current general manager Garth Snow announced that the ice on which the Hall of Fame coach’s former team practices always will be known as “Al Arbour Rink.”
There also will be a permanent historical Arbour display at the facility, Northwell Health Ice Center at Eisenhower Park, the site of the spirited memorial service that was held a year and a day after Arbour died at 82.
Bill Torrey, the general manager who persuaded the promising young coach to take over the foundering expansion team in 1973, was the most emotional of the speakers. He broke down at the end of his remarks, after having said, “The one thing I learned, the one thing he showed, was it could be done. He wouldn’t have come here if he didn’t think it could be done. He will live on. His imprint, his philosophies — the legacy of Al Arbour lives on. And I miss him.”
Players from all Islanders eras were there, from Ed Westfall to Mick Vukota, Pat LaFontaine to Tom Fitzgerald, Jean Potvin to Graeme Townsend. So were current Islanders, who know Arbour only by the reputation he earned by taking the lowly team to the Stanley Cup semifinals in 1975, winning four Stanley Cups in the early 1980s and upended the two-time champion Penguins in 1993.
“It gives you the chills for sure,” captain John Tavares said. “You can just tell from the stories of all the alumni and the friends how special a guy he was.”
Co-owner Jon Ledecky, introduced by emcee Jiggs McDonald as “Katie Ledecky’s uncle” in honor of the Olympic champion swimmer, addressed Arbour’s widow Claire, who was there with the couple’s children and grandchildren. Ledecky said he learned that Claire has a necklace bearing mementos from the eight Stanley Cups Arbour won as a player and coach, and promised that when the Islanders win their fifth Cup, “We will come and we will give you that pendant for your necklace, representing the legacy of Al Arbour.”
Monsignor Jim Vlaun spoke about Arbour’s deep faith (he carried rosary beads in his pocket) and said the coach spread “the power of hope.” Mike Bossy read from the book of Ecclesiastes (“A time to weep and a time to laugh”), Bob Nystrom read from the First Letter to the Corinthians (“Love bears all things”).
Former players told of how much they loved the coach who often yelled at them but deeply cared for them. Torrey said he retraced the route he and Arbour used to take to Nassau Coliseum from the latter’s Cold Spring Harbor home. Torrey said he learned not to speak when Arbour was talking because, he said, “You don’t interrupt a genius.”
Scotty Bowman, the winningest coach in NHL history, who gave Arbour his first coaching job with the Blues, attributed his own success to his old friend. He said the hardest thing he ever had to do was try to beat Arbour when they coached against each other.
Butch Goring recalled being furious with Arbour for benching him one game in 1981, then discovering the coach was only motivating him. It worked. Goring won the Conn Smythe Trophy as playoff MVP that year. Goring added, “If he knew Bob Nystrom was reading scripture, Al Arbour would be laughing his [butt] off.”
Denis Potvin said the alumni wanted to mark the one-year anniversary because the time that has passed would allow them to laugh. He and his teammates asserted they would not be the players they were or the people they have become if not for Arbour. “Thanks, Al,” he said. “It was a great run.”