National title a dream come true for Ikkala

Cole Ikkala finished his hockey career with the National Title after a 7-4 win over Minnesota. (Candice Monhollan)

Cole Ikkala finished his hockey career with the National Title after a 7-4 win over Minnesota. (Candice Monhollan)

The day before the Frozen Four semifinals match against Boston College on Thursday, Union College senior Cole Ikkala realized this was it for him.

It was his last year at Union, his last weekend of hockey and it was all happening in the city close to where he lived for seven years and graduated high school from.

In essence, the story couldn’t have been written any better for him.

“I’m trying to take in as much as I can,” Ikkala said over the phone Wednesday. “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.”

Well, Union made it to the tournament for the second time while Ikkala was on the team and also the second time in program history.

Not only that, but they beat Boston College in the semifinal game, 5-4, and advanced to the National Championship for the first time ever.

“We had half a team [now] that was there in 2012 down in Tampa,” Ikkala said. “We passed it along to the young guys. We always made sure that the emotions were down. We ignored a lot of the extra stuff that was going on.”

Coming into the tournament, the 23-year-old forward may not have been at the top of the scoring charts, but he brought much more to the team in other invaluable forms.

“He’s a great leader,” said captain Mat Bodie. “Everybody respects him and everybody loves to hang out with him. He’s just a terrific guy [and] that’s why he wears the ‘A’ on his jersey. He leads by example. He’s your prototypical Union hockey player [who] doesn’t seek credit. He’s probably going to win or be one of the guys up for the Unsung Hero award for our team. He plays hard every game and guys respect him.”

Because of that level of respect, Ikkala was one of the leaders who kept the team under control as they headed into new territory in the tournament and kept everyone level-headed before taking the ice Saturday night.

“Believe it or not, before the game just felt like another game,” he said. “That says a lot to our coaching staff and our leaders. We just treated it like another game and that’s what it felt like. It didn’t feel like the big stage until you got out there and started playing.”

Union came out and, despite trailing early on, rallied back to score three quick goals in the first to take the lead and never looked back.

They were able to skate away with a 7-4 win over the University of Minnesota and earned their first national title.

“I was numb,” Ikkala said. “Four years ago, it was a dream to even make it here with a program that was just starting to win. Now, we’re here. We were in the title game and we won. It’s amazing. I can’t even explain the feeling.”

Some of his family and friends were brought in on the six tickets allotted for each player, but Ikkala was able to snag a few more for some former teammates from Downingtown West High School and the Philadelphia Jr. Flyers – two teams he used to play for in the area.

It made lifting the coveted trophy even more special.

Even those in the area who couldn’t attend were still sending support his way.

“I had teachers, students and coaches from Downingtown West and the Jr. Flyers organization texting me and wishing me the best of luck,” he said. “That meant a lot. I was here for seven years and they were part of my development. It’s exciting for me and exciting for them.”

Now that it’s all over, Ikkala will look toward graduation and his full-time job awaiting him in Boston and his teammates know this may have been his last game on the ice.

“You never know what opportunities present itself,” Bodie said. “If this is his last game, I couldn’t be happier for him. He’s a great guy to be around and I just wish him the best. I’m really glad he can go out like this. I’m just so proud of all the seniors that we finally made it.”

With the parity now in college hockey, it’s tough for teams to consistently make the tournament, so for Union to accomplish it twice in three years is remarkable and for Ikkala, it’s also something for him to cherish for the rest of his life as his hockey career now comes to a close.

“You’re not going to get back here many times in your career, especially in only four years,” he said. “Going out on top is the best way I could have scripted it.”

Ikkala was able to get his storybook ending after all.


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

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