ONLY on 23: Mattila reflects on hockey coaching career

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ROCKFORD, Ill. (WIFR) We all have that special someone we look up to whether it's a family member, a teacher or even a coach and for 30 years, Rockford's hockey community has been able to turn to one man for advice on and off the ice.

"He's been around forever. Everything on this rink has his name on it. It's crazy."

Tim Mattila could be considered the grandfather of Rockford hockey.

He took over the high school program in the early 90's, renamed it the Rockford Icemen, and went on to win 16 state championships in a 17-year span.

Brett Stewart won a pair of those titles and says Mattila taught him more than just skills.

"I was six years old and the only thing I dreamed of was playing as an Iceman," said Stewart. "Fortunately, I got four years of that and I wouldn't trade it for the world."

"That's how you build a program," said Mattila. "You don't just get five guys from Canada to come in and now you're a good coach. You have to develop players from a young age."

The 2015 Illinois Hockey Hall of Fame inductee also works with the Rockford Park District youth programs.

He's helped develop skaters like 13-year-old Santiago Perez. The Eisenhower Middle Schooler has been with the junior IceHogs for eight years and he says Mattila does everything right.

"He makes everything fun here," said Perez. "The skills, the skating that we do, puck handling, passing, all that. He's a great coach for that."

"He'd run a lot of camps in the summertime," said former player Joe Mazzuca. "So he'd be able to see, even before tryouts, what kind of skillsets of the players he has. I think just that alone would let him adapt to whatever situation he had."

But no matter what drills he teaches or how many trophies he wins, Mattila says it's about the kids he coaches.

"I can walk into any restaurant or anywhere and my players will come up to me and say thank you coach," Mattila said. "So to me, that's impressive."

His impact has left a lasting impression.

"The one thing I wanted to do was coach after playing with him," said Stewart. "Because he gave me my confidence. He gave me everything I needed and that's what I want to give back to the community."

"It's been amazing," said Mattila. "It's hard to say it's over because it is hard to say that it is over. But, that was my whole passion and my whole life."

It's a hockey life that has come full circle.