By Jonathan Spaner
There are bright lights, big crowds, all housed in one of my hometown’s most famous landmarks, with the game’s best and brightest competing in a world-renowned tournament. If you closed your eyes, you might think you at the World Junior Championship. The only difference is for the people of Edmonton every summer, they get to see the next stars of the game ten years earlier.
The Brick Invitational Hockey Tournament is the best showcase in the world for 10 and under hockey players since its founding in 1990. For thirty years, novice hockey players from across North America have battled in West Edmonton Mall’s arena every summer, producing a spectacle unlikely to be seen elsewhere, at least, not with elite athletes this young.
The game has changed immensely in thirty years, and it is noticeable to everyone, especially Craig Styles, tournament chairman for each and every tournament.
“Kids aren’t juggling three sports anymore. They’re watching their nutrition, they’re doing dryland training and on-ice training, they’re taking their studies at specified academies. Everything is happening at ten years of age now. And people want to choose to do all of these things for their kids.”
For better or worse, youth sports at the highest level have become more than a pastime. And this tournament can rightfully claim to be an introduction to the Big Time.
“On a small scale, these kids are going through training and experience three years earlier [than their peers]” Styles explained.
From staying in big-name hotels to playing in front of crowds well over a thousand, the young players of the tournament are getting a real taste of what a full-time life of an elite athlete might be like. And as difficult as it may be to predict how a ten-year-old may look and play after teenage growth, the Brick has the star power to back up its claim.
Over 200 tournament participants have played professionally or received scholarships from Canadian and American Universities, with over 100 seeing time playing the NHL, including some of the game’s biggest stars.
PK Subban played on the tournament winning team from Toronto in 1999. Johnny Gaudreau played for the Boston team, while Ryan Nugent-Hopkins for BC Selects in his ten-year-old year.
Although the big names the tournament has gone on to produce is impressive, Styles says he is also proud of what the big stage at an early age does for all the players of the tournament.
“We’ve had players grow up to be doctors, lawyers, social workers. We’ve been able to give an opportunity [for the kids] to become pretty good citizens because of the strength of a team, and the strength of structure” The bright lights of the tournament must have taught them early.
However, The Brick tournament does more than just provide space for the stars to shine. “The experience, whether they’re on the first line, third line, penalty kill or powerplay, is all the same” Styles pointed out. And the team is more than just those on the ice. The tournament is training ground for the coaches, staff and personal that create an important environment for young players to grow.
Styles made mention that the game has grown tremendously over the tournament’s life span especially in the United States, stating that coaches from across America are exclaiming the virtues of a great tournament like the Brick, not only for their players but for their development in how to manage the growth of a young athlete’s career. No doubt the volunteers and parents of the athletes also get a crash course in what it’s like to be apart of the world of the round the clock lifestyle of elite athletes.
Like a crystal ball, the Brick tournament reveals a glimpse into the future, and the game looks to be continually growing.