This game tonight means so much to so many people for many different reasons. Just about two hours before Al Arbour walks to the Islanders bench one last time, please allow me to explain why it means so much to me.
I've had the incredible fortune to be part of every jersey retirement night here, starting with Potvin and Bossy through Bryan Trottier's worth-the-wait afternoon. For a kid who was raised on Long Island, for a kid who grew up with the Islanders, I don't think I could ever put into words what it's been like to play a small role in the planning of these events.
I was a part of the preparations for Al Arbour Night in January of 1997, but it was the one banner-raising I missed.
My father passed away two days before Al's big night.
I will never, ever forget coming home from the wake that Saturday night, putting on Sportschannel and catching the last few minutes of the game as the Islanders held on to beat Chicago, 3-2. For a little while, it was a wonderful distraction.
I didn't catch the ceremony, of course, but towards the end of the game one of the teams called a timeout and the TV broadcast had a close-up of Islanders head coach Rick Bowness drawing up a play. Rick and his staff were wearing on their lapels the pins the team gave out that night. The pin featured a classic shot of Al in his Islanders coaching jacket, whistle in mouth and the words AL ARBOUR 739.
When I came back to work a few days later, I told Bowness how moved I was when I saw him on the bench wearing the pin. Later that day Rick came over to the office and said he had something for me. He dropped his Al Arbour pin in my hand.
When you hear all this talk about Al Arbour and family, it's not some sort of over-hyped legend. It's real. At my father's funeral at Our Lady of Mercy on Monday, Jan. 27, 1997, in walked Al Arbour. The church, for a brief moment, got real quiet. That was understandable because Al had just been on the back page of Newsday. One of my best buddies - guy from the neighborhood I used to go with to a lot of Islanders games in the '70s and '80s - walked up to me after the mass and said, "I know this day sucks and all, but you have to admit THAT was pretty cool."
Tonight, I get another chance to be part of an event for Al Arbour. And that pin Rick Bowness gave me ten years ago? I'll have it with me all night.