A Hockey Legend Passes On, Another Gets A Rough Diagnosis And Much More….

Marc Elliott

FORBES… Last week legendary NHL hockey coach and former player Al Arbour passed away. Arbour was 82 and had been battling dementia. Al hailed from Sudbury, ON and as a player won Stanley Cups with the Detroit Red Wings, the Chicago Black Hawks and the Toronto Maple Leafs. During the 1967 NHL expansion he ended up with the St. Louis Blues becoming their Captain and guiding the fledgling club to 3 straight Cup Finals, but losing all 3 (68, 69 and 70) in four game sweeps. He went on to become the Head Coach of the Blues for parts of 3 seasons before eventually becoming the Head Coach of the expansion New York Islanders. It was there that he made his mark as one of the best NHL coaches in league history.

In his Isles tenure he coached them to four consecutive Stanley Cup Championships. Of note is that Arbour is the last coach to coach a team in one of the four major sports to four straight titles. And considering the way the four leagues are configured at this time, I don’t believe we will bear witness to something like that ever again. Our Minnesota NorthStars were the first Cup victims on the Isles march to supremacy and I must say that it was an impressive dynasty they had established. The team also won 19 straight playoff series which is also a modern day record.

I got to see Arbour play in person and coach as well. He wasn’t a flash and dash player, just a steady Eddy who played the game in a very smart fashion. Neither was he a big guy who played with an edge, but he garnered respect out there and that probably kept him from having to drop the mitts all of the time. Al, you never played on or coached one of my clubs, but I could never ever deny your greatness, thanks for all you gave to my favorite sport…. R.I.P.

LATE SATURDAY NIGHT I was doing some reading and took a quick peek at an NHL website and there I saw a headline that hit me right in the solar plexus. It said quite simply; Henri Richard diagnosed with dementia. I am still having a tough time looking at those words. Henri “Pocket Rocket” Richard and his brother Maurice “Rocket” Richard are my two all time favorite players on my all time favorite team, the Montreal Canadiens. These are two of the most distinctive French Canadian hockey players of all time on arguably the most distinguished well known hockey club in the world. I’m not sure I could verbalize what these two brothers and this team have meant to me.

In the recent past, when Montreal great Jean Beliveau passed away, I noticed that Henri wasn’t at the wake or funeral that I could tell, and I saw no quotes from him in the Montreal Gazette about the passing of former teammate Le Gros Bill. I made inquiries to hockey acquaintances in Canada and none of them had any recent news on the Pocket Rocket. I feared that he might have health issues and at 79 wasn’t getting any younger.

My worst fears were confirmed when I saw the article from Le Journal de Quebec. As a player on the Habs Henri won 11 Cups and that is a record that will probably never be broken. Between he and Maurice they have 19 rings. I got to see Henri play in person and many, many times on TV games. Like myself, he was usually the smallest player on the ice. But when it came to NHL hockey his tenacity and the respect he got because of it were unequaled. Out of his 11 Cup wins he got the Cup winning tallies twice proving he wasn’t just riding on his famous brothers coattails. I know that aging and eventually passing on is part of the process of life but this news was quite unwelcome. Peace and much love to you Henri forever…

THIS PAST WEEKEND THE Semifinals and Finals of the Little League World Series took place out in Pennsylvania and as always the tourney brought some great baseball and excitement. Since I love baseball and young people and especially what I believe amateur sports can teach about life’s lessons, I am totally into this event. But on Saturday I saw something that irritated me quite a bit. When it comes to kids sports I believe that the most important thing going is to play by the rules, have integrity about your game and observe the principals of good sportsmanship at all times.

In the International Final game between Japan and Mexico they had a hard fought game going. After the regulation 6 innings the game was still knotted at 0-0, then Japan got a run across in the bottom of the 7th to gain the 1-0 win and a place in today’s Final which they won in a wild contest 18-11 over the heavy favorite US entry, the Mid Atlantic Champions from Lewisberry PA, a scant 100 miles from the tourney site. The presence of this local team set a LLWS attendance record for a single game on Saturday for the United States title tilt of 45,716. When this contest came to an abrupt ending for Team Mexico, that’s when I saw something that set me off.

Usually after one of these games ends the two clubs line up on the 1st and 3rd baselines and then go through a handshake-congratulations line. As the line progressed I noticed the catcher for the Mexican team had his arms folded behind his back and would not shake hands with or acknowledge any of the Japanese players. I was incensed at this display of poor sportsmanship. I can all but guarantee you that if that had been my team and player and I had witnessed that or even found about it right after the game, that kid and I would have been on the way over to the opponents locker room to issue an apology and then shake hands with these young men and do it the right way. You look the other guy in the eye, shake hands and sincerely congratulate them on a hard fought win. The Fan Jr. eventually got me settled down, no word on the Mexican kid…. PEACE