Pittsburgh Will Be Represented at Prestigious Brick Tournament
The Brick Tournament is the biggest youth hockey tournament in all of North America for players at the 10-and-under age level.
It’s an elite, prestigious event that only invites a select 14 teams across the entire continent, and offers promising young hockey players their first-ever opportunity to showcase their talent in a renowned international tournament.
And in a big step for the growth and development of amateur hockey in the region, last year was the first time in the Brick Tournament’s 23-year history that Pennsylvania was invited to field a team.
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Team Pennsylvania, thanks to the generous support of sponsor GNC, is going back again this summer to give this year’s team – comprised primarily of 2004 birth years – a once-in-a-lifetime experience that will be second-to-none and a chance to showcase themselves on such a big stage. The tournament will take place from July 1-7 at the West Edmonton Mall Ice Palace in Edmonton, Alberta.
“You’re basically playing against all the best kids in North America,” said Cliff Loya, Team Pennsylvania head coach and Penguins director of youth hockey skill development. “The whole point of the tournament is that not only do the kids play against the best competition possible at that age group, they really do get treated like NHL players.
“And then the tournament also does a great job of letting the kids be kids. There’s all kinds of activities. So it’s a really good tournament. Probably the best tournament at keeping the balance between competitive hockey and letting the kids be kids, because they are 10 years old.”
However, the Brick Tournament won’t just showcase the growth of hockey in the entire tri-state region – it will display how far the game has come in western Pennsylvania alone as well.
Team Pennsylvania’s roster includes six kids from the Pittsburgh area. They are forwards Braedon Ford (Upper St. Clair), Matthew DiMarsico (Wexford) and Alex Rafalski (Venetia) and defenseman Tommy Whitford (Gibsonia), along with Baldwin goalies Levi McCrea and Gavin Wohlmacher.
All six are members of the Pittsburgh Penguins Elite Squirt Major team, one of 14 teams in the Pittsburgh Penguins Elite program playing at the AAA level.
Part of the Penguins’ overall vision of supporting local youth hockey to create an elite youth program that would attract top players in different age groups and offer an excellent environment to develop skills, teach teamwork and compete against teams from other areas.
That’s certainly become the case in a short period of time, and these kids being invited to participate in the Brick Tournament is a perfect example of that.
In 2013, seven members of Team Pennsylvania were from the Pittsburgh area. The amount of kids representing western PA on both teams says a lot about just how far hockey has come in the area, especially considering the huge pool of players they had to choose from and the selection process they had to go through.
Each team has a protected geographical region to choose from. Team Pennsylvania was allowed to select players from within the state as well as players from Ohio, southern New Jersey and three imported players from anywhere in North America.
“What we’re trying to do in youth hockey is we’re taking it on head on, from the top down to the bottom,” Loya said. “So this is kind of that top-end there. We have six kids from the western Pennsylvania area. I think it’s great that almost half the team is from the western PA area. And I think it speaks highly the type of athlete we’re getting out of this area, that we can have 6-7 kids that can play at that level.
“Hopefully we’re just kind of starting with the development process, not just for this tournament but in general. And the hope is, as this tournament gets bigger in the area, that we can have more than 6-7 kids come in. I’d love it to have 9-10 kids come from this area, if they can make it.”
Team Pennsylvania, which is co-sponsored by the NHL's Pittsburgh Penguins and Philadelphia Flyers, will be competing against programs from Massachusetts (Boston), California, Illinois (Chicago), Connecticut, Michigan (Detroit), Minnesota, and most of the Canadian provinces: Quebec (Montreal), Alberta, Saskatchewan, Ontario (which has two teams from Toronto), British Columbia (Vancouver) and Manitoba (Winnipeg).
They will play six round-robin games, followed by a semifinal and championship game. And while Loya of course hopes his team does well, overall, it’s all about the experience – which hopefully keeps them playing the game for years to come.
“It’s one of those things where obviously you want to go up there and win, but it’s about the experience for these kids,” Loya said. “If you’re looking at it hockey-wise, to be able to play at that level and compete at that level, hopefully they can use this after this week and use this to help out their hockey careers, because we hope this is not the pinnacle, so to speak.”
TEAM PENNSYLVANIA SCHEDULE (all games Mountain standard time):
June 30 vs. Team Brick Alberta, 7:10pm MST
July 1 vs. Toronto Pro Hockey, 10:50am MST
July 2 vs. Chicago Jr. Blackhawks, 9:10am MST
July 2 vs. Detroit Red Wings, 7:10pm MST
July 3 vs. Connecticut Yankees, 2:10pm MST
July 4 vs. Team California, 3:50pm MST