My first chat with Al ‘Radar’ Arbour took place in Detroit’s old Leland Hotel in 1961, several hours after the defenseman’s Chicago Black Hawks had defeated the Red Wings for their first Stanley Cup since 1938. Al, myself and Toronto’s Hall of Fame goaltender Turk Broda were the last to occupy what passed for the press room. Al was one of the rare bespectacled players and he was wearing the specs that earned him the name ‘Radar.’
I’d seen Al play plenty before and always was impressed with his steady, savvy performances which — for that time — wasn’t easy since he usually was carried as a spare back liner plugged in for emergencies. At 3 a.m. in the Leland there didn’t seem to be much to talk about anymore but Al — Turk, too — was loquacious and funny. He never seemed to tire of telling hockey stories.
Little did I realize it at the time but those ingredients that blended amiability with perception and a healthy dose of toughness were the very same elements that would characterize Arbour as the greatest coach I ever observed and I started watching hockey at Madison Square Garden in 1939. Sure, Scotty Bowman won more games but being the ultimate in coaching also included a human quality that Al possessed over them all.
“It was Al’s personality that made him so terrific,” Glenn ‘Chico’ Resch once told me, “as much as his brains. Radar had a way with players that made you want to play for him. In a sense, he was like your favorite uncle.” The Maven learned that midway in my professional career that veered from writing to the electronic media. Read more