Tom Arkell had aspirations of playing in the National Hockey League, injuries cut his promising career short, as he earned a monogram as a freshman but saw his Notre Dame career curtailed after 30 games.


Oct. 27, 2011

By Craig Chval Sr.

Tom Arkell’s parents had misgivings about the idea of their sons playing contact sports growing up. It’s not that they didn’t appreciate sports – in fact, Tom’s dad, Ken, played for the British Columbia Lions of the Canadian Football League.

Indeed, it was the long-term effect of injuries suffered during Ken’s playing career that gave Ken and Olivia Arkell pause about allowing Tom, and his older brother Jim, to compete in sports like football and hockey.

Eventually, the youngsters prevailed, and it didn’t take Tom long to get the hang of hockey, which all of his elementary school friends in his hometown of Vernon, British Columbia, had been playing for several years. As Tom’s hockey accomplishments and reputation grew over the years, he had many options, as he was recruited to play at the major junior hockey level and by several renowned college hockey programs in the United States, including Harvard, Brown and Notre Dame.

With so many excellent options, it would have been difficult for Arkell to go wrong, but his recruiting visit to Notre Dame clinched his decision.

“The beliefs and ideals of the University and the people that I met when I went on my recruiting visit convinced me that it was the right place for me,” Arkell says. “And it was definitely the right decision.

“Growing up, education was a priority for my parents,” Arkell explains. “My dad wanted to make sure that whatever happened, I received a first class education because he realized that when your career is over you still need to make a living and he knew that education was the foundation for the rest of your life.”

And although Arkell had aspirations of playing in the National Hockey League, injuries cut his promising career short, as he earned a monogram as a freshman but saw his Irish career curtailed after 30 games.

“I was very grateful to the University for honoring my scholarship despite the fact that I spent so much time injured and they spent so much money on CAT scans, MRIs and surgeries,” Arkell says. “They didn’t cast me aside as so many places do.”

Not only was Arkell not cast aside by Notre Dame, but he ended up spending three more years at Notre Dame – earning his law degree in 1997. In embarking upon a legal career, Arkell was following in the footsteps of both his father and his older brother. His father is a retired British Columbia Supreme Court justice while his brother, a former litigation attorney in Texas, is now a professor of law in China.

During his time at Notre Dame’s law school, Arkell worked as a research assistant for Professor Charles Rice in Notre Dame’s law school as well as in the Notre Dame athletic department as an intern involved with contract and compliance issues. Arkell also had the opportunity to argue two cases before the United States Seventh Circuit Court of Appeals while still in law school.

Upon earning his law degree and passing the bar, Arkell began practicing with a firm in Bloomington, Illinois, specializing in employment issues and providing legal counsel to institutions of higher education. Arkell saw similarities between the work he would be performing and the experience he gained while in law school at Notre Dame.

“The employment issues and working with institutions of higher education were something that was very compelling to me,” he says. Today, Arkell is a partner in that firm – Dunn, Willard, Arkell, Bugg, Patterson & Herr, LLP.

Having grown up in a small town, the relatively small size of the Central Illinois appealed to Arkell.

“I interviewed with some firms in large cities and received job offers, but I didn’t want to spend half of my life commuting to and from work,” Arkell says.

Besides a thriving law practice, Arkell has continued to be involved in hockey, both as a player in a recreational league and as a coach. His coaching experience has ranged from three-year-olds to working with the Illinois State University team. Arkell particularly enjoys working with youngsters.

“It gives me a great deal of satisfaction to watch them improve and to give back to a game that helped me get to Notre Dame,” Arkell says. “I enjoy it immensely.”

Arkell isn’t the only one enjoying his involvement with youth hockey. Tom Herr, Notre Dame class of ’88, is not only Arkell’s law partner; he’s also one of Arkell’s assistant youth hockey coaches and the father of one of Arkell’s young hockey players.

“As a parent, I see that with Tom winning hockey games is just the bonus,” says Herr, who first met Arkell at a student send-off held by the local Notre Dame club. “What he has really taught our players is respect, discipline and teamwork.

“Tom teaches them how to conduct themselves on and off the ice,” Herr continues. “He teaches them how to play the game and how to win in life. He is as much into developing character as he is into developing hockey players.”

That emerging character never was more apparent than last winter, when the entire team had to deal with the death of one of the player’s mother, who succumbed in midseason after a long battle with breast cancer.

“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,” Herr relates. “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,” Herr reflects. “The lessons these kids learned under Tom’s leadership will impact them the rest of their lives.”

Arkell made the decision to outfit 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.

As much as he loves hockey – Arkell still plays twice a week with players ranging from 18 to 72 – Arkell is quick to emphasize that his family is his greatest passion. Spending time with his wife, Tracey, and daughters Katy (13) and Delaney (7) and son Dawson (10) takes the highest priority for Arkell.

“Every chance I get, I’m spending time with my wife and my children,” he says.

It’s probably no coincidence that more than half the family plays hockey. While Tom gets to play and also coach Dawson, Tracey has also taken to the sport after first becoming a figure skater in British Columbia.

“There were some friends of hers playing hockey and she decided to start, and she’s really good,” Arkell says.

One thing that all three children have in common is their allegiance to Notre Dame. “I don’t know if it’s raising them to be Notre Dame fans, or if brainwashing is the correct term,” Arkell laughs.

Arkell gets back to Notre Dame as often as his busy schedule permits, and he recently gained another “excuse” to return to campus, as he is now serving a three-year term on the Monogram Club board of directors through 2014.

“Notre Dame was great to me as a student-athlete and as a student,” Arkell says. “Every opportunity I have to give back to the University in some way, I try to take advantage of it.”

As Herr can attest, Arkell is giving back to the University even when he’s not on campus, serving as an outstanding ambassador.

“Throughout his career at Notre Dame, Tom showed an uncommon toughness, playing through injuries and adversity,” Herr says. “As a parent, coach and community leader, he shows that same toughness and commitment.”