NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — Bryan Trottier told a Buffalo radio station on Tuesday that Al Arbour, the coach of the great Islanders dynasty of the 1980s, is battling dementia.
Trottier, the Islanders all-time leader in points, assists and games played, was recently hired as an assistant with the Sabres. During an interview with WGR radio’s “Sabres Hockey Hotline,” the Hall of Fame center revealed the news about his beloved coach.
“Today, he’s going through a little tough time with dementia right now. But we all love Al for all of the great times we had together and his leadership. He was always calm under pressure,” Trottier said of Arbour, 81.
Arbour was an accomplished player long before he took over the head coaching duties of the Islanders during their infancy and eventually led them to four straight Stanley Cup championships from 1980-83.
Known as a reliable defenseman, Arbour’s professional playing career spanned four decades and he won four Stanley Cups — with the Detroit Red Wings in 1953-54, the Chicago Blackhawks in 1961-62, and the Toronto Maple Leafs in 1962-63 and 1963-64. He also played his final four NHL seasons for the St. Louis Blues before retiring during the 1970-71 season.
Prior to the 1973-74 season he was tabbed by general manager Bill Torrey to take over behind the bench with the Islanders, who had entered the NHL the previous season but managed just 30 points during their inaugural campaign.
The rest, as they say, is history.
Arbour enjoyed two stints as Islanders head coach, with the first ending following the 1985-86 season and the other starting in 1988 and running through the 1993-94 season. Arbour retired shortly thereafter as the second-winningest coach of all time, with 781 regular season victories and 123 playoff victories. During the Islanders’ incredible run, Arbour led them to an NHL-record 19 consecutive playoff series wins, which finally ended in the 1984-85 Stanley Cup finals against Wayne Gretzky and the Edmonton Oilers.
“Al was a great motivator. He was probably our father figure in the fact that we all respected him so much,” Trottier said. “He had a great command of the room. At the same time, he had a big man’s presence. He had won a lot of Stanley Cups as a player with several different teams. He played with great players. So he always brought that credibility with him. And for us to sit down with him one-on-one or when he was in front of us as a team, he had a great presence, and we loved the man.”
In 20 seasons behind the Islanders’ bench, Arbour coached 1,500 regular season games and made 15 playoff appearances.
“I think Al was the greatest coach of all time in that he balanced the winning with a personal touch. Nobody did that. Nobody,” ex-goalie Chico Resch, who played for Arbour with the Islanders, told NJ.com back in 2011. “I think those factors have become more important than ever.
“When you are dealing with modern-day athletes who are used to not being told no, given a tremendous amount and not being severely disciplined you really have to do it with a personal touch and tact. Al was always the best at that. And he could do it in a way that he never left the person he was doing it with embarrassed. They always say Scotty Bowman and Al were the greatest and I’d pick Al just because of his personal touch,” Resch added.
Arbour was elected to the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1996.
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