Born in Eveleth, the "cradle of Minnesota hockey," Willard Ikola first gained notice as the latest example of Eveleth High School's history producing extraordinary goalies.
Ikola, who succeeded Frank Brimsek, Mike Karakas and Sam LoPresti — each a member of the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame — as the Eveleth goalie, helped the Golden Bears reach the state tournament each of the four years he was on the varsity.
As a freshman, Ikola and the Golden Bears advanced to the semifinals of the 1947 state tournament. A loss in the semifinals (to Roseau) and to Minneapolis West in the third-place game, were the last losses of Ikola's high school career.
The Golden Bears went undefeated in each of the next three seasons as they won the 1948, 1949 and 1950 state tournaments.
After high school, Ikola played hockey for the University of Michigan. In his three seasons on the Wolverines' varsity, Ikola led the Wolverines to the NCAA tournament each season. The Wolverines won the NCAA title in 1952 and 1953 as Ikola earned All-American honors.
Following college, Ikola served in the U.S. Air Force. While in the Air Force, he played on the U.S. Olympic team, which won the silver medal at the 1956 Winter Olympics. He also played on the 1957 and 1958 U.S. National teams.
In the fall of 1958, Gophers hockey coach John Mariucci, another Eveleth hockey legend, recommended Ikola for the hockey coaching position at Edina-Morningside High School. Ikola left his job as Air Force instructor in California to accept a position as teacher and coach in Edina.
His first Edina team finished with a 4-9-5 record. It would be his only team with a losing record in his 34 seasons as a high school coach. His second team (1959-60) went 17-4 and reached the state tournament for the first time. It was the first of 19 trips to the state tournament for Ikola's Edina teams.
In 1969, Edina won the first of Ikola's eight state titles. When he retired in 1991, he had 616 career victories. In the first 47 years of the state hockey tournament, Ikola had been involved in 23 of them — four as a player and 19 as a coach.
John Mayasich, another Eveleth hockey product and a member of the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame, told the Star Tribune in 1991, "We've been friends and companions for nearly 50 years, and he's exactly the kind of coach I'd want my grandchildren to play for because he's such a gentleman."
Former Minnesota North Star Bill Nyrop, a member of Ikola's first state championship team in 1969, told the Star Tribune in 1991, "His whole philosophy comes from the discipline and defensive mindset of a goalie. Discipline is the key to Ike, and it started when he was our gym teacher in eighth grade. You did one thing wrong, and you were doing burpies for an hour."
Ikola is also member of the U.S. Hockey Hall Fame, the University of Michigan Hall of Honor, the National High School Sports Hall of Fame and the Edina Athletic Hall of Fame.
Teams: Eveleth, U.S. Olympic, Edina, Edina East.