Tracers: The Great Al Arbour

This is Al Arbour. How a man could play NHL hockey looking exactly like my Grade 10 Science teacher (hi, Mr. Lloyd) is beyond me but he did it.

He played with those things. I mean it’s completely unbelieveable except that he did, for many years. LOOK at the EYES. He must have had the poorest eyesight in the history of the game to that point (Andre Racicot was still to come).

In a thread below, Rube Foster posted this:

Oh man you just gotta love those guys from the original six era who were obviously very good hockey players but for what ever reason missed their window of opportunity and never quite got a full run in the show.

I don’t think people today truly understand how daunting it was to crack an NHL line-up back in the original six days. From 1958 till the 1970 the Montreal Canadians had the trio of Jean Beliveau, Henri Richard and Ralph Backstrom playing center. Can you imagine the generation of talent that got stuck playing behind those guys?

You can add Larry “The Rock” Zeidel, and probably even a guy like Don Cherry to the long list of very, very good “Jason Smith” type of defensemen who were never quite flashy enough or in the right place at the right the time to establish a career in the original six. I never saw those guys play but I’ve heard of their reputations and they always struck me as Ed Van Impe kind of guys. Expansion came to the NHL just in time for Evil Ed.

There’s not a word out of place by Rube there, so I posted all of it. His examples are excellent, and I’ll add one more. Al Arbour. Arbour imo is the ultimate example of exceptional players who spent the heart (or close to) of their careers in the minor leagues and lost much of what should have been a major league career to the 6-team era.

At age 20, Al Arbour spent half a season with the Detroit Red Wings (53-54). He didn’t play in the post season, mostly because the team was a stunner, one of the long forgotten “greatest teams ever.” They won the Stanley, beginning a long run of winning teams for Arbour. Like the great Reggie Smith, it has gone pretty much unnoticed by fans. Aside from Gordie and Ted Lindsay and Alex Delvecchio up front, the blueline boasted Red Kelly, Marcel Pronovost and Bob Goldham, all outstanding defensemen at that time. Arbour struggled through the 50s to crack that deep Red Wing roster, spending time in the WHL (was on the 2nd All Star team representing the Edmonton Flyers, 54-55).

He finally played a full season with the Red Wings in 57-58. In those days the NHL made every effort to improve poor clubs through the Intra League draft (playoff teams could protect only 16 players, non-playoff teams 18). That’s how Chicago got Al Arbour in the summer of 1958, and they played him as a regular for three seasons, highlighted by a tremendous run to the Stanley in 1961 (old timers often say the SC semifinal that season between the Hawks and MTL was the greatest ever. Habs coach Toe Blake was pretty pissed, so it must have been a good one). Arbour on a championship team again, this time a team that had very little pedigree (but a lot of emerging talent).

That summer, fate dealt him a cruel blow as the same Intra League draft saw Arbour get picked up by the emerging Toronto Maple Leafs. It was unfortunate because the Leafs had so much depth Arbour would spend much of the 60s in the minor leagues. He was an NHL regular in 1961-62 though and won the Cup again that spring, this time with the Leafs.

Toronto picked up Kent Douglas that summer, and he won the Calder. Arbour? Back in the AHL although fully qualified to play in the show, he began a run of post-season awards in the AHL:

  • AHL First All Star Team (1963, 1964, 1966)
  • Won Eddie Shore Award (Outstanding Defenceman, AHL) 1965

Toronto kept protecting him in the Intra League draft and then burying him in the minors. Rochester won a couple of championships in those years, and they probably would have been an outstanding expansion team had they gone as a group to the NHL.

The expansion draft came in 1967, and Al Arbour was among the first picks (by St. Louis). He quickly became the captain and on-ice leader, and after helping them to three straight finals he retired as a player to become coach of the Blues, October 10 1971.

Al Arbour was known as a smart hockey player, a leader and a top quality defenseman. He represents well all those players Rube Foster was talking about: several generations of men who were major league quality but due to the 6-team era played their games in Rochester, in Cleveland, in San Diego.

Arbour’s Championships

  • Won Stanley Cup: Player 1961, 1962, 1964.
  • Won Stanley Cup: Coach 1980, 1981, 1982, 1983.
  • WHL champions 1952-53.
  • Calder Trophy (AHL champs) 1965, 1966.

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5 Responses to "Tracers: The Great Al Arbour"

  1. Dennis says:

    How is it possible that Al Arbour actually got younger looking as he got older?

  2. godot10 says:

    Birthplace: planet Ork

  3. uni says:

    How could he even play with those glasses? Wouldn’t there be inches of hockey tape all over just to hold them together at the end of a game?

  4. PunjabiOil says:

    Sorry LT, but I have to highjack your thread.


    From HF -OILFAN 81

    Did anyone listen to MacT’s podcast from the hotel today? It was pretty interesting. Said he hasn’t talked to Horcoff yet about it but basically said Horcoff will be playing 1st unit PP but 5 on 5 will probably be playing as 2nd line center or 3rd line center and Stoll will be playing either 2nd line center or 3rd line center. Said it could be Moreau-Horcoff-Brodziak or Moreau-Stoll-Brodziak. He said ideally he wants one of the young guys (named Gagner, Schremp or Cogliano) to play 1st line 5 on 5 with Penner and Hemsky. He said he needs a point a game guy there and Horcoff is not that. Horcoff and Stoll would still be getting there 20 mins a game but 5 on 5 would be on lines 2 and 3 at this point is what the coach said. Found that interesting.

    PS….he also said Greene keeps playing because he has alot of work to do to get better. He said he needs him to stop taking penalties and play way better defensively.

  5. Lowetide says:


    That’s pretty much consistent with MacT’s comments the other day that he could see Horcoff and Gagner flip flopping off the 1line (props to Louise for pointing this out to me).

    I think it’s between Gagner and Cogliano, with Gagner getting the first 9 games if things work out.

    Horcoff is going to do the heavy lifting, looks like they are going to use Hemsky in the Selanne role.

    Not a bad bet, wish Pisani were here.

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