NEW CASTLE —
It’s been touted as the Little League World Series of hockey.
The Brick Invitational Super Novice Hockey Tournament, a weeklong event held at the West Edmonton Mall in Edmonton, Alberta, pits the best 9- and 10-year-olds against each other in the largest squirt hockey event in North America.
There are teams from Toronto, Chicago, Vancouver, Boston and now, starting this season, Pennsylvania.
Team Pennsylvania made its inaugural appearance in the 24th running of the event and Mohawk Elementary student Patrick Silhanek had an ice-level view of all the action.
A member of Penguins Elite Squirt Major team, Silhanek, 10, has been playing hockey since he was 5 and skating since he was 4. It’s that effort, mixed with natural talent, that landed him on Pennsylvania’s first tourney team.
Already part of a prestigious class of hockey youth as a member of Penguins Elite team, only the best from that group and those from the eastern part of the state got placed on the first Team Pennsylvania squad.
“It was Dave Morehouse, who is the president of the Penguins. A lot of things are happening with youth hockey in western Pennsylvania, and this Brick tournament is a result of what he is doing. He went in and he got us the opportunity to play,” Silhanek’s father, Patrick Sr., said. “There was a tournament team from the west, which was basically the Penguins Selects for the spring, then Philadelphia had a team. It was roughly 50 kids. From that team, they got the Brick team, plus three kids from Nova Scotia.”
CLASS OF HIS OWN
The younger Silhanek found a spot on Team Pennsylvania at his favorite position, defense.
“I like to stop that guy (on the other team),” said Silhanek, whose favorite player is Pittsburgh Penguins defenseman Kris Letang. “I like to play the game a lot. I like to see the pros play on television.”
The Brick Invitational is a once-in-a-lifetime experience for most. It carries a certain amount of weight with the players that have participated in the tournament in the past. Former and current NHL players and superstars like Steven Stamkos, Jonathan Toews, Tyler Seguin, P.K. Subban and former Penguins Zach Boychuk, Ben Lovejoy and Brian Strait all participated in the event.
Patrick had the unique opportunity of having future Hall of Famer Mark Recchi coach him on Team Pennsylvania. A former superstar for both the Flyers and Penguins, the two organizations that sponsored the team, Recchi seemed like the obvious choice to lead the charge. Despite Recchi’s career beginning nearly 15 years before Patrick was even born, Patrick was no stranger to the history of his new coach.
“He played for Pittsburgh, Philly, Carolina and Boston,” he said. “I like him.”
Patrick’s father was impressed by the effort put forth by the Penguins organization for the kids when they arrived in Edmonton.
“It’s supposed to be sponsored by the Pens and Flyers, but the Pens, by far, contributed the most,” he said. “They put us up for a week in a hotel. They paid for everybody’s hotel, the ice, the coaches and the practice. That was over $2,000 there. They bought the kids their bags, their jerseys and the shirts. Most of that was from Dave Morehouse.”
Morehouse’s son, Jackson, is a player on the team, which consists of eight athletes from the Penguins Selects team, seven players from Flyers Selects and three import players from Nova Scotia.
Being the new kids on the block provided some growing pains for Team Pennsylvania in Edmonton. In the squad’s opening game, it lost to the BC Jr. Canucks, 3-0. It ended day one with a loss to the Chicago Jr. Blackhawks, 4-0.
The second day of games brought improvement, but another two losses. Pennsylvania lost in a shootout, 2-1, against the Saskatchewan Jr. Pats before taking the eventual champions and perennial juggernauts, the Toronto Bulldogs, to the limit in a 3-2 loss.
“The Toronto Bulldogs won it all —they usually win it. From the time they start at age 5 or 6, they get the best of them together every spring to play,” the older Patrick said. “They do that year after year and they get their team. They’re used to playing together the whole time.”
The Team Pennsylvania squad formed in May and had only five or six practices with each other to work out the kinks before the big tournament.
“Recchi said if he would have had more time with these kids, he thought they would go undefeated.”
Team Pennsylvania closed out its tournament play with a 3-0 loss to the Detroit Red Wings youth team and a 5-4 overtime loss to Team Minnesota.
Despite not logging a point in six games, Silhanek impressed with his defensive play.
“Mr. Morehouse was there, and he told us out of the six defensemen, two were Pens Elite players, Patrick and his partner, Carter Schade, were the strongest pair,” Patrick Sr. said. “They were on the ice for only four of the 20 goals against.”
Throughout the team’s stay in Edmonton, the coaches, the Penguins organization and organizers of the event made sure the time spent would be an experience to remember. The West Edmonton Mall itself is an epicenter for a good time. Along with the ice hockey rink, it features putt-putt, a bowling alley, casino, 18 sporting goods stores and a water park. It’s rumored that 25 percent of Edmonton’s city population (more than a million) can be found at the mall on a typical Saturday.
“Each coach divided the team up on two days and took them out for a couple of hours,” Patrick Sr. said. “Again, the Penguins paid for all of that, the food, the putt-putt and bowling.”
“I had fun. I enjoyed the games the most and then maybe the water park,” Patrick Jr. said. “There were two slides, a yellow and a blue one. They both go straight down. The blue one, you can’t see out of it, and the yellow one you can see the people in the wave pool.”
Team Pennsylvania also earned fourth place in a team competition organized by the tournament comprised skills challenges like basketball shooting, football tosses and bowling.
“Every team got a prize, and the prizes were spectacular,” Patrick Sr. said. “Sherwood just came out with a stick, and each kid got a $150 stick just for being in fourth position. Some got gloves.”
“A knee hockey set,” Patrick Jr. added.
“A knee hockey set, too,” his father agreed. “Every kid got something. It was nice.”
Hockey continues to grow in the western Pennsylvania area. Though an expansion into the Brick Invitational yielded no wins, Patrick Sr. couldn’t be more impressed with what his son has accomplished.
“I was proud. I was proud of the kid, he’s worked hard,” he said. “He spends four hours a week in the car to and from practice (at Robert Morris University), then the weekend, then all the travel. He missed out on a lot of school stuff, so this was a nice moment the he earned and worked hard for.”
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