Tom Arkell’s Christmas break included a seat at the Champs Sports Bowl game Thursday night in Orlando with his alma mater Notre Dame Fighting Irish battling the Florida State Seminoles.
Attended some Notre Dame Monogram Club meetings with a few former NFL and NBA players, leaving the board room “still feeling like a kid from Vernon, which will always be home.”
Then it’s back home to Bloomington, Ill., where the 41-year-old volunteers as a youth travel hockey coach and is on the board of directors of a youth hockey association.
For work, Arkell is a partner in the law firm of Dunn, Willard, Arkell, Bugg, Patterson & Herr, LLP, focusing in the areas of employment law and business immigration primarily representing institutions of higher education. He serves as Counsel to the Board of Trustees of a state university in Illinois.
After graduating in 1994, Arkell earned his law degree from Notre Dame in 1997. His father, Ken, who played 20 games as a 6-foot-8 linebacker with the B.C. Lions in 1956-57, is a retired Supreme Court Judge, while his older brother Jim, a former litigation attorney in Texas, is now a professor of law in China. Tom has two sisters, Karyn and Kathryn.
Arkell, a father of three, first learned how to juggle books and hockey with the Nanaimo Clippers of the then B.C. Junior Hockey League.
“It was pretty dirty back then,” laughed Arkell, who played both defence and wing and earned rookie of the year. “I went to Nanaimo because I played (for Vernon) against a team coached by Bill Bestwick at the North Shore Winter Club and fortunately I played well enough to make the all star team.
“Bill recruited me to play for the Clippers during his first year as a junior coach. Bill was a great coach who kept his promises and treated me well and the (teammate Wally) Bzdell family were excellent billets. They treated me as part of their family and we still stay in touch over 20 years later.”
Arkell was an 18-year-old rookie with Nanaimo in the playoffs when, on the way to the penalty box after sticking up for Clipper goalie Corey Jones, he was challenged by towering Powell River defenceman Dean Malkoc. Arkell recorded a unanimous decision in the road game and earned respect throughout the league.
“Junior hockey forced me to become much tougher both physically and mentally. The entire team slept on an old school bus at the ferry terminal after road games on the mainland. We were not coddled like many players are today.
“The junior game was very physical in the late ‘80s. My dad taught me how to box at a young age so I knew how to fight and ended up with over 250 PIMs in junior, but I started to spend too much time worrying about fighting and not enough time concentrating on skills.
“Ironically, I was suspended for fighting when I went on a recruiting trip to Harvard. Fortunately, the emphasis has changed and the game has progressed a long way since then in terms of skill development.”
Funniest moment in hockey, Arkell remembers, happened in the Clippers’ dressing room.
“Jamie Price was a rookie in Nanaimo. Jamie was taping his wrists and spraying tough skin on his knuckles. I asked him why and his answer was, ‘There are only two ways to make it in hockey – fight or score goals – and I’m not scoring any goals.’”
Wooed by the WHL Portland Winterhawks, Arkell accepted a scholarship to Notre Dame, where academics came before ice time.
“If your grades were not high enough, you were academically ineligible and could not play. Notre Dame is one of the most competitive universities in the U.S. It has a very rigorous curriculum and academics are extremely important.”
He lists his first NCAA game at Minnesota at the old Mariucci Arena, and playing in Switzerland as a sophomore, as career highlights.
Unfortunately, injuries betrayed Arkell’s university years. He fractured his hip in a game against Maine Black Bears and blew out a knee during dry land training before the season on the Astroturf at the indoor ND football facility.
“I do not recall a time at university when I was not injured or recuperating from an injury. I got to know the training staff very well.”
He was a defenceman from ‘90-94 and became the first-ever monogram winner from B.C. after earning a letter his freshman season. He received the team’s academic excellence award for the 1992-93 season – the same season the team traveled to Switzerland.
Aside from the rehab time, Arkell learned many wise lessons at Notre Dame.
“NCAA hockey taught me the importance of discipline and time management. The training and travel schedule was rigorous and you had to use your time wisely to study and train. It also taught me the importance of having an education because I was injured often and realized my hockey career was going nowhere if I could not stay healthy for any extended period of time.”
As a coach, Arkell definitely uses philosophies he picked up along his hockey journey.
“I believe in hard work, the importance of team work and discipline. I focus on skating and skill development. I also incorporate something fun in every practice because the game has to be fun for the kids. You want to keep them coming to the rink.”
Arkell and his wife, Tracey (nee Bridgeman) have three children: Katy, 13, Dawson, 10, and Delaney, seven. Arkell and Tracey share the same birthday (April 17) and Tom recalls seeing her when taking his driver’s licence test in Vernon. She is from Armstrong and used to figure skate, but is now playing shinny hockey with the family.
“My son (Dawson) is a very skilled player – far better than his dad. He is on track to score over 100 goals this year and he had two four-goal games recently in the Bauer Invitational (largest AAA tournament in North America). My daughters are both excellent tennis players. Most importantly, they are all straight A students. I am a very proud father and my wife is an excellent mother. I am incredibly fortunate.”
Arkell used some counselling skills last year when his youth team had to deal with the death of one of the player’s mother, who succumbed in mid-season after a long battle with breast cancer.
“Every chance I get, I’m spending time with my wife and my children,” he said. “One of the toughest things I have ever had to do was give a sobbing little boy in a suit and pink tie a consoling hug at his mother’s funeral.”
Assistant coach Tom Herr, a partner in the same law firm as Arkell, told the Notre Dame Monogram: “We knew that how we helped all of the kids on the team deal with that tragedy was likely to have a huge impact on their lives. Tom found a way to guide these kids and their parents through the most emotional and difficult experience of their life – the loss of a parent. It wasn’t about hockey – it was about life, death, faith, family, love and friendship. The lessons these kids learned under Tom’s leadership will impact them the rest of their lives.”
Arkell outfitted the 10-year-old players in pink jerseys to highlight their stake in the battle against breast cancer. And the team proceeded to write its own Hoosiers script, winning the Northern Illinois Hockey League championship and advancing all the way to the state championship game.
Asked if his kids have seen any video of his playing days, Arkell joked: “No, we don’t have a VHS or Beta player.”
He is a huge Detroit Red Wings’ fan “because Ken Holland is from Vernon and he is a first-class human being who comes from a great family. I also want Colorado to do well because Dave Oliver is also an exceptional person from a terrific family and I want him to succeed.”