"Every Canadian boy dreams about it from the first time he goes out to play shinny on a pond," said Al Arbour. "He dreams about seeing his name on the Stanley Cup."
Arbour certainly saw his share of Lord Stanley's legacy. As a player, Arbour has his name engraved on the Stanley Cup four times with the Detroit Red Wings in 1954, as a member of the Chicago Black Hawks in 1961 and with the Toronto Maple Leafs in 1962 and 1964. Al duplicated the four Cup championships as a coach, winning four consecutively with the New York Islanders beginning in 1980.
"You had to be tough on the players and you also had to ease off," he told Dick Irvin in the book, 'Behind the Bench'. "Timing is everything to a hockey team. They knew once we got to the end of January we meant business. We started preparing ourselves at that time and we ground them down pretty good for the timing to hit perfectly. We won four straight Stanley Cups and got to the finals in the fifth year."
|The 1980 Stanley Cup was the first of four Stanley Cups
Arbour won behind the
In May 1980, having defeated Boston and Buffalo, the Islanders met the Philadelphia Flyers, a team that had gone 35 games without a loss during the regular season, for the Stanley Cup championship. "We knew we had our hands full," declared Arbour. "We got stronger and stronger with every series we went through. Our guys showed up at the right time and they came up big. I knew it was going to be a tough series and we won it, thank God!"
Game One took an overtime goal by Denis Potvin to secure the 4-3 victory. The Flyers smashed the Islanders 8-3 in Game Two, but undeterred, New York came back with a decisive 6-2 win in Game Three. The Islanders and Flyers split Games Four and Five, New York winning 5-2 and Philadelphia 6-3. On May 24, 1980, enjoying a 4-2 lead after two periods in Game Six, Philadelpia stormed back to tie the game at four apiece, sending the game into sudden-death. "We were very confident going into overtime," explained Arbour. "I was a little worried about the third period because the guys really tensed up and they weren't themselves at all. I told them, 'Don't worry, somebody in here is going to get the winning goal.' And that's the way it worked out." Bob Nystrom scored at lucky 7:11 of the first overtime period to secure the franchise's first Stanley Cup championship.
Having taken over the Islanders in only their second season, Al helped the team grow towards the dynasty it became, and the first of the four consecutive Stanley Cup championships was the pinnacle of his coaching career.
"When people ask me about what made the team so great for so long, I keep going back to what terrific competitors we had," began Arbour. "Bobby Nystrom would do anything. Mike Bossy, great scorer that he was, was a great competitor, too. Same thing for (Bryan) Trottier, (Denis) Potvin and (John) Tonelli. It extended to guys like Ken Morrow, the silent one, on defence. The chemistry was great. If things weren't going right for certain players on a certain night, the other guys would make up for it. We had enough character on the team to do that. You realize as you get older what they went through, and all the BS they took from me, but I have to commend them. They were a great group that always showed up to play -- every game, every shift."
The New York Islanders proceeded to defeat Minnesota for the Stanley Cup in 1981, Vancouver in 1982 and became only the second NHL team to win four straight titles (the Canadiens accomplished that feat twice) when they beat Edmonton to claim the Stanley Cup in 1983. Their drive for five championships came to an end when the Oilers defeated the Islanders in the 1984 Stanley Cup Final.
Kevin Shea is the Hockey Hall of Fame's Editor of Publications and Online Features.