Traditionally it is THE tournament for some of the best U10 players in North America.
The Brick Invitational is a week-long tournament for U10 division hockey players that takes place at the West Edmonton Mall in Alta., and runs between the last week of June and first week of July every summer.
“If you’ve never seen it, it is so much fun to watch,” said Andy Wigston, executive director of the Brick Invitational Hockey Tournament.
The tournament began in 1990 when Bill Comrie, founder of the Brick Furniture store, was discussing with Wigston and other executives the fact there were a bunch of great tournaments for young hockey players — like the Quebec International Pee-Wee tournament — but there was nothing specifically for 10-year-olds.
Comrie’s son Mike, who would go on to play 11 seasons in the NHL, was just a talented, 10-year-old kid in 1990 without a meaningful tournament at his age division. Bill wanted to change that.
Having opened a Brick store in the West Edmonton Mall, Comrie and company knew there was a rink already in place.
With permission, they made the skating rink inside the mall into a hockey rink, complete with penalty boxes, player’s benches and even dressing rooms.
“When you came to the Brick store you had an experience, everything you did at the Brick you had an experience. We wanted to make this an experience,” Wigston said.
In its inaugural year the tournament lasted only three days and consisted of eight teams.
“The first three or four years was absolutely one of the most fun things I’ve ever done. I mean without question,” Wigston said.
Thirty years later, the tournament is now capped at 14 teams.
Part of “spring” hockey, teams come from six different Canadian provinces and seven American states, including one team made up of kids from all across the western part of the United States. They are NOT traditional “winter” hockey teams, but rather elite teams built from players across various “winter” teams and leagues.
Every three years, Wigston sits down with committee members to evaluate the organizations fielding teams and determine if they are still meeting the level of competition required to remain in the tournament.
Should an organization fail to meet these standards, they will be replaced. Teams looking to join the tournament must adhere to a strict set of rules before being placed on a waitlist.
Some factors include how long they’ve been in business, quality of coaching and staff and the ability to make a three-year commitment to bring a competitive team to the tournament.
Wigston said he already has a handful of teams from both Canada and America on the waitlist, patiently awaiting their turn.
However, for those teams and players currently involved in the tournament it is a once in a lifetime experience.
“You should see their faces when they come out for the first time, it’s like they’re bewildered,” said Wigston describing the players stepping on the ice in Edmonton.
Wigston said parents love it too because they’re not stuck in a cold rink, there is a Starbucks and a Tim Hortons, they can shop, and the West Edmonton Mall gives every player a day pass for the waterpark and amusement park.
Not only is the venue something to behold but the level of talent is like none other.
“It’s pretty amazing how good these 10-year-olds are, they are the best 10-year-olds in North America,” said Wigston.
Over 200 of those 10-year-olds have gone on to play in the NHL.
Steven Stamkos, P.K. Subban, and Auston Matthews are just a few who once stepped on the ice at the Brick Invitational.
Many more have gone on to play in the Canadian Hockey League (CHL) and various American and Canadian colleges and universities.
Wigston said the tournament leaves a lasting impression on the players.
Former Brick Invitational player and current Edmonton Oiler, Tyler Ennis, often comes back to visit and has even helped out during trophy presentations.
Instead of using bantam level referees, which is often the case at novice level tournaments, this tournament uses Alberta Junior referees, college level referees and even NHL referees.
Wigston said sometimes referees have to make difficult calls, and because the parents, coaches, and players are investing so much time and money into attending the tournament, they didn’t want a team to potentially lose the game because a 14-year-old kid couldn’t make the call.
Wigston said the tournament is run by roughly 45 volunteers, whom he calls a family.
Each team is designated a volunteer team representative, some of which have been helping for 20 years.
From officiating to staff and venue, Wigston and committee at the Brick have strived to make the Brick Invitational an experience for the kids and families involved.
“We wanted to do something that was unique. We wanted something that was just different, but we wanted it to be an experience,” said Wigston.
This year the Brick Invitational is scheduled for Aug. 2-8, due to restrictions from COVID-19.
A final decision on the tournaments ability to proceed this year will be made before April 30, 2021.