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On This Date in Sports March 10, 1992: Arbour Day

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Longtime New York Islanders coach Al Arbour becomes the second coach in NHL history to win 700 games. Arbour’s Islanders defeat the Philadelphia Flyers 5-2 at the Nassau Coliseum for the milestone win. At the time of his retirement in 1994, Al Arbour ranked second behind Scotty Bowman, with 781 wins. Arbour would come out of retirement for one game in 2007, earning one final victory to finish at 782. 

Alger Joseph Arbour was born on November 1, 1932, in Sudbury, Ontario. Arbour began his NHL career in 1954 with the Detroit Red Wings, winning a Stanley Cup Championship. Al Arbour would often split his time between the NHL and the minors, as he had a hard time staying in the NHL in the six-team era. He later spent time with the Chicago Black Hawks and Toronto Maple Leafs. Though his NHL career was not memorable, Al Arbour had the habit of being in the right place at the right time, winning four Stanley Cups, one with Chicago in 1961 and two with Toronto (1962 and 1964). A reason for Arbour’s postseason success was his willingness to sacrifice as he would throw his body in front of the net to block shots. 

 After more than 15 years of splitting his time between the NHL and minor leagues, Al Arbour finally had his first full NHL season in 1967/68 with the expansion St. Louis Blues, with whom he served as captain. The Blues were the best of the NHL’s six new teams, as they made the Stanley Cup Finals in each of their first three seasons. Al Arbour got his first coaching experience as he was finishing his playing career, as he coached 50 games as the Blues had an ongoing contract dispute with Scotty Bowman. When Bowman departed to take over with the Montreal Canadiens in 1971, Arbour was initially overlooked but eventually was handed the job after tryouts for Sid Abel and Bill McCreary. The Blues would cut times with Al Arbour one year later, posting a 42-40-5 record in parts of three seasons as coach of the Blues. 

 In 1973, Al Arbour was hired to take over behind the bench for the New York Islanders, an expansion club in their second season. In his second season in New York, Arbour led the Islanders to their first playoff appearance. The 1975 postseason run was historic for the Islanders as they beat the archrival New York Rangers in the first round. In the second round, they became the second team to win a series after losing the first three games, as they beat the Pittsburgh Penguins in seven. They nearly repeated the feat in the semifinals, losing Game 7 to the eventual champion Philadelphia Flyers. 

From expansion to Stanley Cup contenders in two years proved that Al Arbour was one of the top coaches in the NHL as he was able to sustain the success in New York. The Islanders, meanwhile, began to form a core group that would build one of the NHL dynasties as players like Denis Potvin, Mike Bossy, Bryan Trottier, and Billy Smith were all homegrown. After four semifinal appearances in five years, the New York Islanders won their first Stanley Cup in 1980. They would win four consecutive Stanley Cup Championships, reaching the Stanley Cup Finals in 1984, before losing to Wayne Gretzky in the Edmonton Oilers. Along the way, the Islanders won 19-straight postseason series, a record that likely never will be broken. 

As the New York Islanders’ glory days waned, Al Arbour decided to retire following the 1986 season, taking a job in the front office. In 1988 after a slow start, Arbour returned behind the bench as a favor to longtime President and General Manager Bill Torrey. Arbour reached 700 wins with a 5-2 win over the Philadelphia Flyers at the Nassau Coliseum. The game turned late in the second period when Ray Ferraro and Hubie McDonough scored 27 seconds apart. Benoit Hogue added the capper in the third period, as Arbour was voted one of the game’s three stars. 

Al Arbour would coach two more seasons with the Islanders, taking New York on a run to the Wales Conference Finals in 1993. Following the 1994 season, Arbour retired one last time, with a record of 781-577-248. His 781 wins ranked second to Scotty Bowman, as his 739 with the Islanders was the most for one coach with one team. 

When Al Arbour retired, he had coached 1,499 games with the Islanders. On November 3, 2007, Ted Nolan invited him back for one game to make it an even 1,500. The Islanders won the game against the Pittsburgh Penguins 3-2. The Islanders would honor Arbour again with a new banner taking down the banner that had 739 wins and replacing it with one that said 740.  His 782 wins currently are ranked fifth, behind Bowman, current Joel Quenneville, current Islanders coach Barry Trotz and Ken Hitchcock. While Devils coach Lindy Ruff is six wins away at 776.