I have been thinking about what to write about seeing "Radar" behind the bench at Nassau Coliseum last night and I have come up with this. Memories. Plain and simple memories are what came to the forefront of my mind. Memories of Arbour drinking from Lord Stanley's cup. Memories of Arbour holding the cup up high and drinking much deserved champagne after a cup victory. Hearing about how Arbour held a little practice session with himself and a rookie named Denis Potvin for missing a team bus. Arbour wringing every bit of performance he could out of the players he coached. Make no mistake people, coaching in hockey is not like managing in baseball. A coach can and does effect the outcome of games, seasons, and playoff series. Arbour you can make a case was as important to the amazing run the Islanders had than anyone else. That is why his brand spanking new "1500" banner now hangs from the rafters of the Coliseum. Lets get into the behind the scenes happenings shall we?
I made sure I was early to avoid missing any of Arbour's walk to the bench. Glancing at the media notes its a thrill to see "Head Coach - Al Arbour". The crowd tonight is especially pumped. Chants of "Ar-Bour" are heard throughout the arena which is great to hear because it has been 14 years since Al was behind the bench. Announced as a sell out crowd saves me from having to bash the Islanders fan base. Tribute video later, and the red carpet is rolled out here he comes the man himself. Crowd erupts and Al looks genuinely touched. Arbour has his note pad and pen and keeps in his left inside jacket pocket as he always did. Ceremonial puck drop and here comes... SCOTTY BOWMAN? Arbour is especially happy to see Bowman and the fans show Bowman the respect he deserves as the two greatest coaches in the history of hockey shake hands at the bench. Following Bowman out is BILL TORREY. Ceremonial puck drop is complete and the national anthem is sung, and were ready for the puck to drop. I usually do not get into the happenings of the game but I will now because of the way the game unfolds and how fitting the outcome was.
Al Arbour coached the Islanders to three of the most amazing playoff series victories against the Pittsburgh Penguins. We have all heard about the seven game series won when down 3 games to none. We have heard about coming back after being down 3-1 with 6 minutes to play and storming back to win not only the game but the series, propelled by Arbours goalie change that gave the top Power Play unit time to rest. But the one that I will remember perhaps just as if not more fondly than the others is quite honestly the biggest upset in NHL history. The Pittsburgh Penguins in 1992-93 were by so far and away the best team in hockey everyone, and I do mean everyone had them written in as the 1993 Stanley Cup Champions and who could blame them? They finished the season with 119 points. 367 goals for. A record setting 17 game winning streak AND oh yeah, they were the two time defending Cup Champion. They had Mario Lemieux, Jaromir Jagr, Ron Francis, Larry Murphy, Tom Barrasso, Rick Tochett, Kevin Stevens, Martin Straka among others. Their coach? Some guy named SCOTTY BOWMAN. Don't forget that Pierre Turgeon, the best offensive player on the Islanders as the time was out because of that infamous Dale Hunter cheap shot. It was a slam dunk right? There was no chance the Islanders could win one game in this series let a long the series itself. Well don't tell Al Arbour that. He challenged his players not to be intimidated. He willed that team to a remarkable 7 game overtime victory! Listen ...err read to how this happened. The Islanders were up 3-1 in game number 7 - A remarkable feat being everyone and his mother has the Islanders getting swept. Pittsburgh, was not about to let their championship run go without a fight, scored two late goals to tie the game and send it to overtime. It was Arbour that got his Islanders to hold their heads up and realize that they still had just as much of a chance to win the game as the Penguins did and not to let what just transpired get the best of them. So what happens? History does NOT reverse itself and give the Penguins the win, David Volek, who spent a LOT of time in the vaunted Arbour dog house scores the winning goal and sends the Islanders to the Semi Finals. You can talk about Glenn Healy standing on his head, you can talk about Volek's heroics, you can talk about all of that but what the one guy that deserved the most credit for the victory was Al Arbour.
So.. After all of that history of huge playoff success against the Penguins, the Islanders choose the Penguins as their opponent for number 1500. They fall behind 2-0. The Islanders could really just fold up to the pressure of trying to win one for Arbour, but guess what. 3 Un answered goals, one with 2:41 left in the 3rd gives Arbour his 740th win. Say it isn't so, one more come from behind win against a favored Penguin team. Chants of "Arbour" are replaced with chants of "740" The players congratulate Arbour despite the fact that he gives all credit as he always does to the players. They bring out the entire Arbour family. They bring out the Islander Alumni including all the names you know and a very nice surprise in Pat LaFontaine. They lower the "739" banner, and raise the new "1500" banner. In a very nice touch, the picture you see at the top of the screen shows the current Islanders, the former Islanders and the Arbour family posing for a Kodak moment that Islander fans are sure not to forget any time soon.
After that, this blogger still has a job to do. Walking to the back this time is a surreal experience. Theres Bossy, Trottier, I exchange hellos with Gillies who is always a class act. I turn the wrong way and walk almost directly into Mrs. Arbour, before I can congratulate her some guy cuts in front of me. That guy? SCOTTY BOWMAN~! Theres LaFontaine, Gerry Hart. We go into the coach interview room that is buzzing more than normal as reporters are crowding around the podium. I am flanked by Gillies and Jean Potvin, who is standing on a chair so he can see the guy he respects so much speak. Arbour of course deflects any and all praise for the win to Nolan and the Players. He thanks the fans for staying so long after the game and said he was truly touched by the show of affection after so long. He says that he wasn't sure that anyone would remember him and was touched by his reception by the fans and the respect the players showed him. Gillies and Potvin have smiles on their faces the whole time Arbour speaks. He says he doesn't miss coaching and enjoys what he is doing now the most, nothing. He gets many chuckles from the room as his wit is as sharp as ever. He goes on to say that he likes the current team because they work very hard shift after shift, and when you play like that you will have a chance to win every game you play despite the lack of superstars on the team. Al did say that for 5 minutes in the 2nd period the team played poorly (My words not his). He thanks the fans and the organization one more time and make his way to what I hope was a fun and well deserved after party.
Coach Nolan is up next and he looks happy as a clam. Nolan goes on to talk about the events that led up to Arbour coaching the game. He talks a little more about the game and how the team doesn't give up. He said that DiPietro got hit in the eye with Crosby's stick, but that was refuted later by Chris Botta saying the he got hit around the eye. As it stands he is day to day with a facial contusion. Miro Satan says that the players were thrilled to get the win for Arbour as the magnitude of his presence was not lost on any of them. The players all seemed to have a deep respect for the man as they all repeatedly and rightfully refereed to him as a legend.
You can say whatever you want about the Islanders franchise. You can say this was a publicity stunt. You can say it was a ploy to get people in the stands. You can say whatever you want, but the fact of the matter is that this organization, and I mean the one owned by Charles Wang knows how to treat the teams rich history and the people who are responsible for it. Previous owners have and the alumni have been quoted as saying that they have felt used and mistreated. They never involved the alumni's families in any of the festivities. They wouldn't cover hotel rooms and travel expenses for the families. Now all of that bad feeling is gone. I have heard the Alumni comment positively on the changes in how the organization treats them. The ceremonies under Charles Wang's watch have been dignified, appropriate, and never overblown. Charles Wang understand the history of the team and has brought back Bryan Trottier and Mike Bossy to the good graces of the Islander name. Last nights ceremonies were quite simply the perfect way for the fans and the Islander organization to give Al Arbour one great big thank you for the memories.
Please share your fondest memories of Al Arbour.