There is a sad story today out of Buffalo where Sabres assistant coach Bryan Trottier revealed that Al Arbour, the coaching genius behind the Islanders dynasty of the early 1980s, is suffering from dementia.
Trottier, the Hall of Fame center who was at the heart of the New York teams that won four straight Stanley Cup championships, told a Buffalo radio station that the 81-year-old Arbour is “going through a little tough time with dementia right now.”
“Al was a great motivator,” Trottier said of Arbour, whose 782 career coaching wins rank second all-time behind only Scotty Bowman. “He was probably our father figure in the fact that we all respected him so much. He had a great command of the room and at the same time he had a big man's presence. He had won a lot of Stanley Cups as a player with several different teams. He played with great players, so he always brought that credibility with him. For us to sit down with him one-on-one or when he was in front of us as a team, he had a great presence and we loved the man … we all love Al for all of the great times we had together and his leadership.”
If the report is true, Arbour wouldn't be the only significant hockey figure to suffer from dementia. It was revealed in March 2012 that Gordie Howe was struggling with the effects of the condition, which was also cited as a concern in the concussion lawsuit filed against the NHL by former player Jon Rohloff earlier this month.
Given the attention paid to the effects of brain trauma in recent years, it shouldn't come as a surprise that there's been an increase in research into a causal link between the violent contact that takes place in hockey and the early onset of the dementia.
Whether Arbour's condition is a result of genetic predisposition or his career as a player—he spent 14 seasons in the NHL as a defenseman (before helmets were mandatory) with the Red Wings, the Blackhawks, the Maple Leafs and the Blues—we're all pulling for him and wishing him the best.