Arbour's Day: Devils' Sutter almost had shot to match wits with Isles' legend

New York Islander Fan Central | 7/29/2007 10:42:00 AM | | | | |
Interesting article where Al Arbour and new Devils coach Brent Sutter is quoted, apparently the Islanders first idea was to have Arbour coach a game scheduled earlier next season vs New Jersey.

Arbour's Day: Devils' Sutter almost had shot to match wits with Isles' legend

Al Arbour's one-game return to coaching the Islanders was nearly scheduled against Devils rookie coach Brent Sutter. That would have been an emotion-filled night for the Hall of Famer and his former captain and protégé.

When Arbour and members of the Islanders' front office discussed plans for his return to the bench, they seriously considered two Saturday night home games at Nassau Coliseum -- Oct. 20 against the Devils and Nov. 3 vs. the Pittsburgh Penguins.

At the time, the Devils had not yet named Sutter their new coach, so that didn't figure into the decision.

"I told (the Islanders) the Devils game was too early," Arbour revealed to The Star-Ledger. "I'm still at my summer home (in Ontario) in September. I didn't want to be rushing back. But it would've been fabulous. We would've been looking at each other not knowing what to do. Well, we both would've been trying to win, which is the way it's supposed to be, right?"

"I'd probably have worn a pair of glasses because Al wore glasses," Sutter said in a telephone interview from his home in Alberta. "It would've been great. I have the highest regard for Al as a person and coach. He's a great man. He taught me a lot, like how to be a professional and how to deal with things."

"No question, watching someone means an awful lot," Arbour said. "He was like I was as a player. I learned from a lot of coaches and learned something from them all. My last coach was Scotty Bowman, but I also learned from Punch Imlach and Joe Crozier.

"Brent was a student of the game. He had leadership qualities all over. That's why he was our captain."

Sutter said the greatest lesson he may have learned from Arbour was how to communicate with players Al was great at communication," he recalled. "You always knew where you stood. I work on the framework of honesty. Al was the same way. That's where I learned it from."

In his introductory press conference, Sutter said some of his players probably won't like him because of his tough approach. That is Arbour all over.

"I think Brent is going to command respect. He's a very no-nonsense type of guy," Arbour said. "He's not there to be liked. Some of my players liked me and some of them hated me. I think he'll be the same way."

Hate might be a strong word when it comes to Arbour.

"I'm not so sure hate is the word," Sutter said. "I'm not going to say every player respected Al the way I did, but there was a tremendous amount of respect. I've said that there doesn't have to be a tremendous amount of love between players and the coach, but there has to be a tremendous amount of respect. I demand respect."

Sutter, of course, could've had the Islanders' job at various points had he been ready to leave his junior team, the Red Deer Rebels of the Western Hockey League. Arbour doesn't hold it against him that he's a Devil.

"That was his decision. I'm happy for him," Arbour said. "I think it's great for him. I'm sure he could've gone to a lot of places a while back. He'll be successful with the Devils. I don't think it will be as tough for him making the transition from junior hockey to the NHL because he played in the NHL."

And he had a pretty good teacher.

"Al took me under his wing," Sutter said. "I always looked at Al as like a father to me."

Islanders coach Ted Nolan came up with the idea of bringing Arbour back. Nolan said he noticed a board outside the team's dressing room that showed Arbour had coached the Isles for 1,499 games and thought it would be meaningful to bring him back for No. 1,500. Nolan will join Arbour behind the bench on Nov. 3.

Arbour said he agreed to come back to show some of the organization's past stars that they need to stay in touch with the team.

"I'm sure I will be nervous," Arbour said. "You never forget, but I hope I don't forget too much. It should be very interesting."

What if he gets the itch for more than one game?

"No possibility whatsoever," Arbour insisted. "You kidding? I'm going to be 75 years old soon. I'm not in the best physical condition anyway."

One game is enough.

"I think it's great," Sutter said. "Great for the game. It's a credit to Teddy Nolan to approach Al on it. It will be great to see Al back."

Even if it's not face-to-face.