Beyond the Game: Unlikely coach raises the bar for Razorback ice hockey team

Brian Gallini (KATV photo)

You've likely never heard of the Arkansas Razorbacks hockey team.

"We're not where we want to be but thank God we're not where we used to be. That kind of just sums us up," said Head Coach Brian Gallini.

Founded in 2007, Gallini came to Arkansas from the University of Pennsylvania in 2009, where he was coaching the sport. He turned the program into a powerhouse at the D-III level, before transitioning to D-I in the 2015-16 season. The team finished ranked No. 21 in its first season at D-I, but has not seen the same results in the two years since. They're 5-12-1 so far this season.

Still, this is a unique success story, especially when you consider it is a club sport. Despite wearing Razorbacks across their chest, they receive no support from the athletics department. Students have to pay to play, upwards of $3,000 a year.

"Which I think says a lot about them, they're dedicated not just to the sport, but they're dedicated to us, to the university, to our mission," Gallini said.

"It's tough," said senior forward Jacob Brown. "My family has been unbelievably supportive of it. They know it's been a love of mine, and the fact that I'm getting an education. I'll be the first one in my family to graduate from college.

Even less likely than the success of this southern state's signature school in a snowy sport, however, is the background of the head coach. Gallini used to run a practice of a different kind. A law professor at the university, he once worked at one of the top firms in Washington, DC.

In Northwest Arkansas, he can partake in his two passions: proceedings and puck.

"Someone once said to me that to be successful, you need an understanding wife, a loyal dog and a great goaltender," Gallini joked.

He said the common thread is leadership. Under his guidance, he hopes to increase interest and have sustained success at the D-I level. Only then, he said, would the Razorbacks possibly follow in the footsteps of Penn State and Arizona State and become a full-fledged D-I hockey program.

"I don't gamble, but if I were, I'd place a bet that in our lifetime, the SEC will elevate a team. And I do think there's a bit of an arms race - a quiet one - between us and Alabama.

"It will kind of be which athletics department takes notice first."

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