Arbour to Coach Milestone Game for Isles

Published 12:00 am Monday, December 26, 2005

NEW YORK – Al Arbour has one more milestone to reach behind the New York Islanders bench. Already with 739 Islanders wins _ the most for a coach with one team in NHL history _ and four straight Stanley Cup championships from 1980-83, Arbour will return to Long Island for one night to lead the club for a record 1,500th time.

The Islanders announced Thursday that Arbour will coach the team Nov. 3 _ two days after his 75th birthday _ at home against Sidney Crosby and the Pittsburgh Penguins.

With permission from the NHL, Arbour will sign a one-day contract on Nov. 2 _ taking over from current coach Ted Nolan _ and then extend his mark for the most games coached with one team.

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“This is an incredible gesture by Ted and the Islanders,” the Hall of Famer said in a statement released by the team. “I am flattered that Ted thought of me and I wouldn’t miss this night for the world.

“I told the team that I do not want any pregame fanfare. I’m there to coach the game and help Ted and my Islanders try to earn two points against a very tough team.”

The idea came from Nolan, who grew tired of what he saw on a ceiling-to-floor clear plastic board in the hallway leading to the team’s dressing room that highlights Islanders award winners and all kinds of statistical achievements.

“Every day it would kill me when I’d see Coach Arbour made it to 1,499 games,” Nolan said in the statement.

He spoke to Arbour earlier this week, and the one-day coaching plan was hatched.

“I asked (general manager) Garth Snow if we could bring Coach back for one more game and to ask the NHL office to recognize it,” Nolan said. “They did, Coach Arbour emphatically said he was on board and now I can’t wait.

“It’s going to be an amazing night, I can guarantee you that. To me, Al Arbour and Scotty Bowman are the two greatest coaches in NHL history.”

The numbers support Nolan’s claim.

Arbour is 739-537-223 in his 1,499 games with the Islanders. Including a three-year stint with the St. Louis Blues, Arbour has 781 wins, second only to Bowman’s 1,244. Bowman also leads with 2,141 games coached, 535 more than Arbour.

In the playoffs, the numbers are even more impressive. He went 119-79 with the Islanders in the postseason, punctuated by the dynasty years in the early 80s. He is one of three, joining Dick Irvin and Toe Blake, to coach in five consecutive Stanley Cup finals.

Arbour, the NHL coach of the year in 1979, was behind the bench for an NHL-record 19 straight playoff-winning series from 1980-84.

“As a former player of Al’s I am looking forward to seeing him adjust his glasses and brush his hair aside one more time,” said Hall of Fame forward Mike Bossy, who played nine of his 10 NHL seasons under Arbour. “Al Arbour put his stamp on what the New York Islanders are all about _ heart, grit and character. It’s perfect that he’ll be sharing the bench with a man in Ted who believes in the same philosophy.

“Anyone who’s close to Al knows he’s taking this very seriously and won’t allow himself to soak it all in and enjoy the fan support until the game is over. He’s probably already breaking down Pittsburgh game tape.”

The Sudbury, Ontario, native coached the Blues _ a team he captained in the late 1960s _ from 1970-73. He joined the Islanders in 1973 and stayed through the 1985-86 season, capturing five Patrick Division titles to go with the four Cup championships.

“He coached that team from when they were down and out, taking them up to the level they got to,” former Islanders captain and new Devils coach Brent Sutter told The Associated Press in a phone interview. “He was a real players’ coach. He would get in guys’ faces and he would challenge them.

“But he had a very loving side and a very caring side that they all had a tremendous amount of respect for him.”

After a two-year hiatus, Arbour returned to the New York bench in 1988 for a six-season stint _ including a surprising run to the Eastern Conference finals in 1993 _ that wrapped up his career.

That is until now.

“I really became a student of the game playing for Al,” said Sutter, an Islander under Arbour for 10 years. “He was fatherlike to me. He taught me so much about the game and how to be a pro and how to handle situations.

“More importantly, he taught me the mental toughness part of the game.”

Arbour, inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1996, has his “No. 739” retired, and a banner hangs from the Nassau Coliseum rafters commemorating his victory total with the team.

A service of the Associated Press(AP)