Tom Orr carries hockey love from Wilson Arena to other areas traveled
Orr helped introduce an ACHA Division II team to compliment the Hoosiers' Division I team.
JAMESTOWN — There are very few things that have had a bigger impact on Tom Orr’s life than hockey. He has the sport to thank for meeting his wife, Matty, and his family members being as close as they are.
“Hockey has provided a lot of opportunities but it’s just been a lot of fun to bond and try to go on some trips and watch the kids play,” Orr said. “Now, the University of Mary (Bismarck) games, the kids are able to come out and watch and it’s fun. It brought my wife and I together. We wouldn’t have met if it wasn’t for hockey and being up here at Wilson Arena, you see all the different people in the community that make it special.”
Orr first got his start in the sport as a young child, skating at John L. Wilson Arena and watching his uncle, Jimmy Carlson, play for Jamestown High School.
“As a little kid, when I was about 3 years old, until about 1981, I’d go to the games,” Orr said. “I’d get to go in the locker rooms and I remember one time Paul Kaiser was number 16 and he gave me a broken stick shaft and it had number 16. Those things made me just really want to be a Blue Jay hockey player. Growing up a lot of people want to play for NHL teams or whatever. I just really wanted to play hockey for the Blue Jays. To me, they were like the New York Rangers.”
This winter is the first time in 12 years that the Orr family does not have an outdoor rink in their backyard because they don’t have a permanent residence yet in Bismarck. While they look for a house, the rink is currently sitting in his father’s shed in Ypsilanti, North Dakota, until they find a house with a backyard that is suitable to build it in.
The Orr rink is not just a sheet of ice with nothing around it. The outdoor rink has lights and boards complete with sponsorships and glass. Orr, his wife and their son, Lyndon, rented a U-Haul to pick up the boards and then a year later the glass from the Aberdeen Hockey Association while Orr was working at Northern State University (S.D.).
The rink also requires the family to have about 100 pairs of skates in their basement for neighborhood kids who don’t have any. The boards have advertisements on them, including one with a humorous twist. Orr said his son Lyndon and daughter Jocelyn are able to break the glass when they take a slap shot.
“So, we’ve had to move glass panels and do plexiglass, so that (advertisment) is probably our favorite because it’s Aberdeen House of Glass,” Orr said.
His hockey journey has not been all smooth sailing as he has dealt with plenty of false starts. Orr attempted to walk on to the University of North Dakota's NCAA Division I varsity team but did not make it. Despite that, he said he learned from former Fighting Hawks head coach Dean Blais and became friends with the guys on the team.
After graduating from North Dakota, he transferred to Indiana University where he played on its ACHA Division II team. After finishing his playing career there, he returned as the head coach and attempted to turn the program into an NCAA Division I program but failed to do so. Despite the funding from Indiana alumnus entrepreneur, Mark Cuban, the Hoosiers could not secure enough funding to be one of the founding members of the Big Ten hockey conference.
“We had Mark Cuban and some other people behind us and we were very close to starting an NCAA Division I hockey team at Indiana University,” Orr said. “It got to be a little bit of Title IX and a little bit of funding and we need a little bit more funding and winning from our football team.”
He tried to do the same thing with the University of Iowa, but funding presented a brick wall again.
Off the ice, Orr is a professor of sports and leisure management at the University of Mary. Each semester, Orr teaches three classes, including sports governance, sports marketing and intro to sports management this semester. Orr said he is looking forward to teaching a class called sports psychology and injury prevention in the spring 2023 semester.
“You’re not talking about Pavlov’s dog drooling, which is interesting,” Orr said. “You’re talking about why their favorite kicker just missed a kick on Sunday and what they might do to tell the kicker to make the kick next time if they were the coach or maybe a sports psychologist that the team paid to help that kicker.
Orr is also an assistant coach for the Marauders' ACHA Division II men’s hockey team. Orr also runs the Pro Ambitions hockey camp alongside the Boston Bruins, which among his research as a professor allows him to bring real-world examples into class discussions.
“The nice thing about this role, what I research, what I coach, what I teach, what I love, is sport so it ties together nicely,” Orr said. “A lot of things you can be very efficient because it all ties together. An experience where I travel across the country doing hockey scouting ties back into class when I have a student ask me a question about scouting basketball and I’ll know industry standards. The coaching keeps you young and keeps you with the players and all those things.”