Monday, July 8, 2013

Al Arbour & The Perils of Poor Eyesight

Al Arbour was on of the very few professional hockey players to wear glasses during the course of games. He was a terrific defender and great shot-blocker. He played over 1,300 pro games, 626 in the NHL and helped win three Stanley Cups. After winning the Eddie Shore plaque as AHL's best Defenceman in 1965, League president Jack Riley said, "Al Arbour is the best defenceman outside the NHL, and he should be in it."

He was Rod Langway before Rod Langway. In 1954/55 he made the second all-star team in the QHL with the Quebec Aces although he played in only 20 of the team's 60 games played that year. One can imagine he had a few trials and tribulations due to his one-ice eyewear. In a February 1966 issue of Hockey Illustrated a few of them are chronicled:

  • While with Windsor Junior A Ontario Hockey Association during a game at Stratford, Al Arbour was playing centre. A stick broke and the black-taped blade skittered down the ice toward the Stratford goal, with Arbour in fast pursuit. "I thought it was the puck," Al recalled. "I never was a good goal-scorer as a forward and this was my big chance for a breakaway. Boy was I embarrassed when I realized nobody was chasing me and the people were laughing. It must have been quite a sight, the play going on in our end of the rink while I'm racing the other way chasing a broken stick! I decided then and there that I would have to start wearing glasses."

  • "It was during my last year in Windsor. My glasses had steel frames, and when I got hit with a stick, the frame snapped and a piece of steel just missed my eyeball. Now I wear plastic frames. I tried contact lenses my first full season of pro with Detroit and Sherbrooke, but I finally threw them away. I just couldn't get used to them."

  • "And I'll never forget one night in Sherbrooke when the puck was shot behind our net. Red Bownass was my defence partner. I headed back of the net from one side and he came from the other. We collided head on, and as he picked himself up, he said 'cant you see where you're going, you blind bugger?' The funny thing was that we were both wearing contact lenses at the time."
Arbour would be claimed in the expansion draft by St. Louis in June of 1967 playing for the Blues until 1971. He represented them in the 1969 NHL All-Star game. Arbour served as St. Louis head coach for three years before taking over the helm of the New York Islanders in 1973/74. He of course would lead the Isles to four consecutive Stanley Cups in the early 1980's and was elected to the Hall of Fame in 1996.

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