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Legendary Edina coach Willard Ikola tells all

By Loren Nelson, 03/03/16, 1:00PM CST


Ikola and local author Jim Hoey collaborated on book about the amazing career for the man known simply as 'Ike'

David La Vaque has covered all but one state hockey tournament game since 2009 and has worked as a Star Tribune high school sports reporter since 2004. His favorite tournament experiences include cheering for alma mater St. Paul Johnson in 1991 and staying for most of the Apple Valley/Duluth East marathon semifinal game in 1996. Loren Nelson has covered every state tournament since 2009 as the national media editor for Sport Ngin. He attended many, many other Tourney games as a high schooler from the far northern reaches of Minnesota making the annual pilgrimage south to the old St. Paul Civic Center in the 1980s.

Willard Ikola at Braemar Arena in Edina in 2007. Star Tribune file photo

Ikola during his coaching days

The trademark houndstooth hat has been retired for years.

These days iconic former Edina coach Willard Ikola sports a golf cap with a small green Hornets logo on the front. That’s the only discernable clue Ikola offers to his days leading the Edina program to eight state championships and 616 wins in 33 seasons or, before that, winning three state titles as a goaltender for yet another dynasty program in Eveleth.

The 83-year-old Ikola was back at the state tournament on Thursday in St. Paul, hanging out inside the Xcel Energy Center, just past the mini donuts stand near Section 125. He was reminiscing with fans and former players while promoting the recently published book, “Ike: Minnesota Hockey Legend.” The book is a collaboration between Ikola and local author and hockey historian Jim Hoey.

Hoey frequently used Ikola as a resource while writing “Puck Heaven: Minnesota State Boys’ Hockey Tournament Trivia”. Ikola’s incredible memory and storytelling ability got Hoey thinking about a book project focusing on the man known simply as Ike.

“I said, ‘OK, I’m retired, I’ve got lots of time,” Ikola said about agreeing to the book. “So he brings his tape recorder and we start talking. He had a bunch of questions.

“What he did is have me talk into the tape recorder and then he would write it that way, rather than talk to other coaches and players or anything like that.”

Hoey said he originally planed to write the book in a more traditional way, with detailed research and comments from other coaches and former Edina players, among other sources.

“Then I thought, ‘His memory is so good, he is such a great storyteller, and people would rather hear it from his voice than mine,’ ” Hoey said.

Both Hoey and Ikola said book sales have been encouraging. Signings and other events in the Edina area, especially, have been popular, they said. Ikola said his portion of any proceeds go to a scholarship fund that is awarded annually to an Edina senior hockey player.

Even though Edina failed to reach the state tournament, connections to this year’s event are plentiful for both men. Ikola’s former Eveleth teammate Dan Voce has a junior grandson, Lucas Voce, playing for Princeton. Hoey, who won a state title playing for Greenway in 1968, was the head coach of the Farmington boys’ hockey team from 1981 to 1986.

“It’s kind of exciting to be here now, after being out of there 30 years,” Hoey said just before Farmington and Stillwater squared off in Thursday’s first state Class 2A tournament quarterfinal. “My coaching career was nothing to write home about.”

More required reading
Another state high school hockey legend, Henry Boucha of Warroad, and former Hill-Murray player Duke Pieper also could be found in the Xcel Energy Center concourse promoting books about their lives. 

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