D-West grad returns home to lead Union College in Frozen Four

This article can be found published on the Daily Local News‘ website.
Union College senior hockey player Cole Ikkala, a Downingtown West grad, returns home tonight to lead his team against Boston College in the semifinals of the Frozen Four at the Wells Fargo Center. (Candice Monhollan)

Union College senior hockey player Cole Ikkala, a Downingtown West grad, returns home tonight to lead his team against Boston College in the semifinals of the Frozen Four at the Wells Fargo Center. (Candice Monhollan)

The scene is set for something which could have a storybook ending for Union College of New York senior ice hockey player Cole Ikkala.

Though his school bio lists him as from McKinney, Texas, the 23-year-old has called many places home due to his father’s job, which includes Pennsylvania.

“I was born in Denver,” Ikkala said by phone Wednesday before today’s Frozen Four semifinal game against Boston College at the Wells Fargo Center. “I moved back and forth between California, Alaska and Colorado and then I ended up moving to Philadelphia end of my sophomore year in high school.”

In fact, he and his family took up residence in Downingtown where he then attended Downingtown West High School starting his junior year.

… [Please continue the story on the Daily Local News website by clicking here.]

He joined the hockey team at the school, which surprisingly enough, was the first time he had ever experienced it.

“High school hockey was something new to me,” Ikkala said. “They didn’t have that in Colorado. Where we were at in Colorado was kind of a tough place for hockey. There wasn’t really a team too close to me. When we were moving to Philly, we expected better and it turned out to be great.”

Even though Pennsylvania isn’t known as a hockey state like some others including Minnesota and Massachusetts, the hockey culture is alive and well in the area.

“We researched it and tried to move somewhere near West Chester where the Jr. Flyers play,” Ikkala said. “It seemed like it was a big deal here. The Flyers are a big deal. It’s a great hockey town and the Jr. Flyers organization was always really good.”

In his two years of high school in the area, Ikkala played on both the Downingtown West team and the. Jr. Flyers.

“It turned out to be a lot of fun and it was a big deal at each school,” he said. “A lot of students supported it. The Jr. Flyers were great for me. We had great teams both years.”

All-in-all, Ikkala spent seven years in Downingtown, the longest he’s spent in a place outside of Denver.

Now, he finds himself back in Philadelphia on the eve of the Frozen Four – hockey’s version of the Final Four – in his senior year of college.

The forward isn’t known for his goal scoring, but he brings a large amount of energy and fun to his team at Union College, a school he didn’t even know existed before being recruited.

“I was playing for the Vernon Vipers up in the British Columbia Hockey League and while I was up there, I got recruited by them,” Ikkala said. “I wanted to go somewhere where academics were just as important as athletics and that was really stressed at Union. That was what sold me.”

Union hasn’t been a big name in the college hockey world such as their semifinals opponent Boston College. In fact, Union had never made the Frozen Four until 2012 and Ikkala was a part of that team.

Unfortunately, they lost to Ferris State in the semifinals.

“I think last time we were in the Frozen Four, we got caught up in a lot of stuff outside the rink – all the extra media attention and the big atmosphere and the big rink,” Ikkala said.

This time around, Union’s approach will be to not overhype the game, and it starts from the top with the leaders, which just so happens to include Ikalla, who is an assistant captain.

“Our approach is the same the whole year,” he said. “We’re treating it like any other game. As a senior and a leader, we’re just trying to pass it on to the young guys that it’s just another game and not to get distracted by everything else that’s going on.”

Even with all that said, being a part of the Frozen Four tournament is an exceptional honor for college athletes when so many players go their entire collegiate career without ever making it.

But for Ikkala, the next three days will be even more special for him as not only is it being played in a place he once called home in his last year, but this will also be the last time he plays the game.

“I’m trying to take in as much as I can,” he said. “When they announced it four years ago, I was pretty excited about that thinking that I’d have the chance to play in Philadelphia at the Frozen Four my senior year. Lucky enough for me, we made it here.”

Though he hasn’t graduated yet, Ikkala has already taken a job in Boston and will trade in his hockey stick to join the workforce.

For the time being, he’s going to soak in the memories of the Frozen Four and play his heart out to earn the chance to become a national champion.

“I’m just trying to take everything in and enjoy it as much as I can because it is my last weekend, but we’re also at a Frozen Four,” Ikkala said. “A lot of people wish they could make it to events like this. It’s exciting and I’m going to take each game like it could be the last – the last of the season and my career.”

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Categories: College Sports, Features, Frozen Four, Ice Hockey, Sports

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