A MEETING WITH THE MASTER
by Joe Heydenberg
Islanders Video Coordinator
[Editor's Note]: Joe Heydenberg, who works with the Islanders' coaching staff as Video Coordinator, was in Naples, Florida a few weeks ago to speak at the NCAA Coaches Convention. When the Islanders held their 1980 Stanley Cup Celebration in March, Heydenberg introduced himself to Hall of Fame coach Al Arbour and the two spent a few minutes before the ceremony discussing the craft of coaching. Since Arbour now lives in the Florida Keys, he was gracious enough to accept Heydenberg's invitation to lunch while he was in the area for the NCAA conference. We asked the Islanders' Video Coordinator to share his experience in an email.]
It isn't often you have the privilege of learning from one of the best who ever was.
I had a very unique opportunity to sit down at a local restaurant called Marina Jacks with Al Arbour. He graciously shared 90 minutes with me about everything I could learn about championship coaching in one meal. Coach Arbour warmly and enthusiastically shared the best pointers he could offer me about what it take to win a championship. Or four.
I did not need to hear how to diagram a forecheck or defeat a power play. Rather, I was more interested in the qualities, standards, techniques and tricks he used during his coaching career. He emphasized how important that his drills and practices prepared the players for all of the intensity and stress of games.
Coach Arbour re-counted that the famous 7:11 goal scored by Bobby Nystrom in 1980 was from a drill that he used for years. Coach Arbour believes this drill gave Bobby, Lorne Henning and John Tonelli the natural sense to create the Stanley Cup scoring opportunity at the very moment it was needed. This emphasized that drills do indeed win games and championships.
A funny story he was fond of sharing was how unwilling he was to put Mike Bossy on the ice when there was an empty net opportunity for the Islanders. Despite his reliable defensive play and being the best pure goal scorer of his generation, apparently Mike was exceptionally unable to score on empty nets. Coach Arbour also shared how intense and prideful Mike Bossy was a player. With tremendous dedication, Bossy eventually became as skilled a defensive player as he was gifted offensively.
It was easy to get Coach Arbour to talk about what it takes to be a successful coach because he is justifiably proud of what he has done. He also made it easy for me ask questions because he wanted me to come away with some things that can make me a better coach.
This was a priceless opportunity to gain a special insight into championship coaching. For one sunny day the fine weather elicited some of Coach's best stories and best advice. For someone who only got to see on TV what he and his players accomplished on the ice, it was a day that I will never forget.