Gallo: A one-man show
By Jeff Berlinicke

KISSIMMEE, Fla. – Every day, Angelo Gallo drives over to an aging, somewhat sad-looking hockey rink in a town known for glamour and glitz, and tries to sell a bunch of starry-eyed kids, and some grizzled adults on the idea of ice hockey as a life experience.

Gallo is the General Manager of Hockey at the Ice Factory, located about a half-hour from the glamour of Walt Disney World, and within an hour of some of the highest-profile rinks in the state of Florida which, believe it or not, has embraced ice hockey despite the golf, beaches and theme parks.

Gallo has been at the Ice Factory for more than two years, but he established some ground rules immediately after taking over at the Ice Factory, which is off the beaten path, but the kids and adults who play there wouldn’t play anywhere else.

"We’re not trying to compete with anyone here,’’ Gallo said. "We have a rule, there are no politics here. We don’t want to compete with the big guys; we’re not trying to sell the NHL. The game is our instrument and it’s a way to teach kids all about life.’’

A lot of the larger, more corporate ice rinks in Central Florida upstage the Ice Factory. There’s a hominess to it, however, that is hard to find at the bigger places. Unlike other places, Gallo said he assumes that his kids know what to expect and like the down home atmosphere at the Ice Factory.

"If I had it my way, the only thing I’d add to this place is a nice couch with a fireplace,’’ Gallo said. "That would make it perfect and make it feel like a home.’’

Gallo is a one-man show at the Ice Factory. The facility had fallen out of style in recent years until Gallo decided to start doing round-the-clock hours to make it work. It finally started to pay off, thanks in part to Gallo’s willingness to take a financial beating.

He offers free clinics, equipment, and ice time to anyone who wants it, as long as the attitudes are right and there’s no interference from parents who want to be too much a part of the show.

”People have to play by the rules here,’’ Gallo said during a rare break. “The kids love it here. They come in here and they never want to leave. The kids are improving in all aspects and they are finally starting to show it on the ice.’’

Two years ago, the youth teams won only one game combined. They aren’t ready to head to Montreal yet, but they have been competitive this season and the wins are coming more frequently. Two of their teams are playing .500 hockey.

”We struggled last year, but the kids always gave it all they had,’’ Gallo said. “We went from having just a few ids to having more than 60 show up for practice. It’s growing here and it’s exciting to see.’’

For the kids that don’t want to go home at the end of the day, sometimes that’s not a problem. There are regular sleepovers on mattresses that cover the ice and the kids are usually up and skating by early the following morning.

Gallo, who played hockey growing up in Canada and is the leading scorer of the Ice Factory’s adult hockey team, has a lot of competition. With a population explosion in Central Florida, hockey facilities are popping up everywhere. The RDV Sports Complex, owned by the Orlando Magic of the NBA, tends to get its picks of the most talented players and the Ice Factory is a somewhat older facility off the beaten path.

Still, Gallo said he and his hockey program offer things other facilities can’t.

”Here, everybody has fun and, I keep bringing it up, but there are no politics. We won’t put up with it. The kids are here to have fun, and they are what’s important. Nobody else. If you want politics, there are plenty of places to go for them. Head up the road to Orlando, anywhere else. Not here. We’ve never kicked anyone out, but we’ve made it clear if they are not welcome and they get the idea.’’

Gallo said he isn’t into it for the money or the acclaim. He is in it for the smiles on the faces of the kids who get there every day after school and wonder why they have to leave for homework, dinner, and bedtime. He’s in it because, like the kids, he loves the game and won’t let anything – parents or politics – get in the way.

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