Willard Ikola

If you ask a typical Minnesotan hockey player who Willard Ikola is, you’ll probably sense their vicarious pride and see their smile widen. Ikola is a former U.S. Olympic hockey player and retired, award-winning hockey coach for Edina High School and Edina East High School. Under his 33 years of guidance, Edina’s teams consistently performed outstandingly, winning a staggering amount of games, titles and championships. He has been named “Minnesota High School Hockey Coach of the Year” six times, and is widely considered one of the nation’s all-time best hockey coaches.

Ikola gives much of the credit for this success to the kids’ talent and the local programs that helped to hone their abilities. “The big thing about Edina is the youth program,” he says. “You’re only as good as the program that teaches you, and the Edina Hockey Association really gives kids the best teachers. In fact, our success was largely due to the skills and support the kids received through the Association.”
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The Edina dwelling coach also cites Braemar Arena as a competitive advantage for his teams. “Before the Arena was built, we practiced outside, battling things like cold weather and bumpy ice. All the while, the northern teams had indoor facilities that enabled them to practice more. When Braemar was built, it allowed us to up our training and take our playing to the next level. They’ve given so much support to youth hockey and I only have good things to say about their programs. Without Braemar, our teams would not have won nearly as many tournaments as they did.”

His advice for up-and-coming players is to do everything they can to ace the art of skating. “Skating is so important -- it’s one skill that will make you or break you. To get a good foundation, it’s really important to get ‘power skating’ training. It’s best to learn it early on because once you master skating, the rest of the skills tend to fall into place.”

Ikola says Braemar Arena is a “fantastic” place to go to learn power skating, as well as basic skills for newbie skaters.