The New York Islanders are giving Hall of Fame coach Al Arbour a unique 75th birthday present: they are going to allow Arbour to coach the Islanders for one more game on November 3 against the Pittsburgh Penguins. That will give Arbour exactly 1,500 games behind the Islanders’ bench in his distinguished coaching career. Arbour will sign a one-day contract to coach the club on November 2.
Isles’ coach Ted Nolan offered Arbour the invitation. In a statement released by the club, he explained, “Every day last season I would walk by that big board outside our locker room at the Coliseum that lists the franchise’s award winners and milestones. And every day it would kill me when I’d see Coach Arbour made it to 1,499 games.
“I asked (GM) Garth Snow if we could bring Coach back for one more game and to ask the NHL office to recognize it. 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.”
Arbour, who coached the Islanders for 19 seasons from 1973-86 and again from 1988-1994, was touched by the opportunity given to him by the Islanders’ organization. “This is an incredible gesture by Ted and the Islanders,” Arbour said. “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 pre-game fanfare. I’m there to coach the game and help Ted and my Islanders try to earn two points against a very tough team.”
In 1,499 games as coach of the Islanders, Arbour compiled a record of 739-537-223. He has the second highest win total of any coach in NHL history behind Scotty Bowman and has coached and won more games with one franchise than any coach in the history of the league. In the postseason, Arbour has a 119-79 record. He led the Islanders to four consecutive Stanley Cups and a record 19 straight series wins. He was inducted into the Hockey Hall of Fame in 1996.
Hall of Fame winger Mike Bossy, now the Isles’ executive director of corporate sponsorships, was also excited by the move. “Ted Nolan has shown a great deal of respect for the tradition and history of the New York Islanders and Al Arbour by stepping aside and having Al coach his 1500th game,” Bossy said in a statement released by the team. “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.
“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.”
Of course, the Islanders did not anticipate one problem with this move: If Arbour wins the game, the banner hanging in the rafters at the Nassau Coliseum with his name and his win total (739) will have to be changed. It’s hardly a concern, however. This move shows the Isles’ respect their tradition and their fans. November 3 should be a special night this year at the Nassau Coliseum.