UNIONDALE, N.Y. — The careers of Al Arbour and Bobby Nystrom with the Islanders were closely entwined. They go back to 1973 when Arbour became the team's head coach and Nystrom showed up at the Islanders' training camp at Peterborough, Ontario, brimming with enthusiasm.
"During our first day at camp, we had our medicals and they took photos of us, then Al came in and said we'd have a light skate," Nystrom said. "It lasted 2 1/2 hours. We realized then that there would be no more nonsense and that this new coach was totally in charge and a definite disciplinarian."
Nystrom recalled that incident last week after Arbor announced his retirement as the Islanders' coach. An eye injury ended Nystrom's career last season, so player and coach are going out together. Both have their memories.
"Those early years, it was like a revolving door here," Nystrom said. "Guys were being shipped to the minors, new players were coming in, and nobody bucked Al's system. It was his way or the highway."
Denis Potvin also was a rookie at that 1973 training camp and quickly learned that Arbour was the boss. "Al had a plan then," the team captain said. "He wanted a solid defense and I figured in that plan. He was tough on me then and tough on me throughout my career. If I was to be the anchor, well, I had to take on those responsibilties."
Bob Bourne has been with the Islanders since 1974, and admits that Arbour "molded me into the type of player I became and for that I thank him." However, the veteran forward admits that last season was a nightmare. "For the first time in 12 years, our relationship soured," Bourne said. "I was mad at the way I was treated. That hurt me.
"I still feel Al's approach to the older players could have been different. But that's his way. He always did what he thought was right."
Goalie Kelly Hrudey, also was on hand for Arbour's announcement, grinned when he was asked for his reaction. "Al was a sour man at times," Hrudey said. "But I mean that in a positive way. I'm sure he wanted to motivate us. He'd get you teed off and hoped you'd play better. It worked with some guys, but not with others."
Clark Gillies was one of the few Islanders who matched Arbour's neck size, but Gillies remembers when his large neck was threatened by the coach in 1974. "I was a rookie and we were winning a game in Los Angeles, 3-2, when I gave up the puck and the Kings tied us, 3-3," Gillies said. "Al didn't say anything to me after the game, but on our flight to Vancouver I was standing in the back of the plane when he came up to me and said, 'If you ever do that again, I'll grab you by the neck and choke you.' From that point on, I knew Al was tough."
Mike Bossy will remember Arbour for two reasons. "First, I'll never forget the look of happiness on Al's face after we won our first Cup. It was a look we hadn't seen before. I'll also remember how he pulled me into his office a couple of times and told me he wasn't too happy with the way I was playing. There were no exceptions when it came to those office visits."
Bryan Trottier said: "Al played no favorites. And discipline was an important part of his system. It was something you lived by and carried over into your own life."
Bill Smith, the last of the original Islanders, expressed surprise at the news. "I thought Al would be back for at least another season," the goalie said. "I . . . never had a problem with him. When we were winning those four Cups, I always knew where I stood. And he knew where I was coming from."
Lorne Henning and Butch Goring played under Arbour, served as assistant coaches with the Islanders and now are head coaches, Henning with the North Stars and Goring with the Bruins.