With his next coaching victory, which could happen as early as tonight against Nashville, Stars coach Ken Hitchcock will surpass Al Arbour for third on the NHL’s all time wins list with 783 victories.
In an interview with Mike Heika of the Dallas Morning News, Hitchcock is very honest and humble about what Arbour means to him. Especially when compared to Scotty Bowman - the league’s all time leader in coaching victories whose Red Wings clubs battled Hitchcock’s Stars during his first go-round with the team in the 1990’s - Arbour was a person to both learn from and emulate. So much so that passing him in the record books is kind of a bummer.
"I don't feel good about it. I don't really know why, but I don't feel good," Hitchcock said. "I felt he was a special human being and a special coach. He was a guy that I could relate to, so it doesn't feel great, to be honest with you."
Bowman might be the top of the mountain, but Arbour made an impression on Hitchcock as he rose from equipment salesman to midget coach to junior coach and, eventually, the NHL.
"We all got our lunch handed to us by Scotty, but Al was more of a measuring stick for us," Hitchcock said. "Scotty was rarified air at the time, but Al was a guy we got to talk to and meet. Because he had so many players from the west, I knew him and he knew me."
Joel Quenneville passed Arbour for second on the all time list in 2016 and had similar praise for the coach, from the added perspective of a player that had to run up against Arbour’s Islanders from time to time.
"Trying to play against [Arbour's] teams over the years, he was one of those guys that was distinguished behind the bench," says Quenneville, who wins for the 347th time with the Blackhawks. "His teams were always winning teams and they always played hard and were tough to play against. I think as a player you heard a lot of good things about Al as well. His teams were successful, and catching him, I'm very honored."
Al Arbour passed away in 2015 after a battle with dementia. His legacy not only will live on among Islanders fans for the excellence he brought to the franchise, but in the coaches he influenced and inspired that carry on his principles even today. That’s remarkable.
Our own small tribute to Al Arbour is a shirt designed in his honor, with one of his most famous quotes. All of the proceeds from sales of our shirts go directly to the Center for Dementia Research in Orangeburg, NY, which seeks to better understand, treat and prevent Alzheimers and other dementias.
You can buy the shirt at our usual store or at Web Community Tees (same company, different name). In addition to men’s tees and hoodies, the shirts are now also available in tank tops and ladies styles. Or you can donate directly to the CDR here.