Pennsylvania youth hockey team heading to tournament in Canada

Luke Janac
Luke Janac

It’s one of the top youth hockey tournaments in North America, in a region with a deep and rich history in the sport, and the event has turned out dozens of alumni playing in college and professionally.

But when asked what he was most excited about for his adventure this week, State College’s Luke Janac mentioned first on his list going to an amusement park.

Janac is 10 years old, and you can’t fault him for his priorities.

He’s also pretty excited to have the chance to play hockey in Edmonton, Alberta, Canada.

“It’s one of the highest tournaments,” Janac said, “and we’re playing a bunch of hard teams.”

Janac is on Team Pennsylvania, and is the only player not only from State College but all of Central Pennsylvania. They flew to Edmonton on Friday and start playing Monday in The Brick Invitational 25 th Annual Super Novice Hockey Tournament.

The tournament is for 9-10-year-olds, with 14 teams divided between Canada and the U.S. The field is broken into two divisions mixed with teams from both countries. Pennsylvania is in the same division as Detroit, Chicago, Toronto, California, Connecticut and the host Team Brick Alberta, against which the Keystone kids play Monday night to open the tournament.

Five more games over the next four days follow, with the top six teams advancing to the playoffs.

The Pennsylvania team is sponsored by the state’s two NHL clubs, the Pittsburgh Penguins and Philadelphia Flyers, and also by GNC. Coaching the squad is Cliff Loya, who is the director of youth hockey skill development for the Penguins.

After working in an administrative role with the team last year, the first the region has sent a team to the tournament, Loya is coaching the team for the first time.

Trying to figure out who and what to look for at this age was a tough task, but it has been a little easier in the second year.

“It’s a little harder at first,” Loya said. “As we go along we can identify kids and have the quality that you’re looking for. I think this year we have a really strong team. I think we’ll compete well up there. I think it’s hard to say if we’ll win the whole thing because the level’s so high. The more you’re up there, the more you understand what you’re looking for.”

The tournament has had its share of talent. Among the alumni are NHL standouts Jonathan Toews, Andrew Ladd, Dany Heatley, Steven Stamkos and Dion Phaneuf.

Penn State sophomore forward David Goodwin also played in the tournament, as did Nittany Lion coach Guy Gadowsky’s son Mac.

Loya began making plans for this team last summer, held the first tryout in September and another in December, at which Janac took the ice. Loya figured about 120 kids tried out for the team. From there the group was whittled to 40 for another team camp in York, where the final roster was chosen in March.

The PA team is actually made of more than just boys from the state, with Ohio and Southern New Jersey also considered part of the region. Six each hail from the Pittsburgh and Philadelphia areas on the 17-player roster, and another is from near Cleveland. The team also can have three players who are “imports,” from other regions, with that trio coming from near Detroit, near Buffalo, N.Y., and from Nova Scotia, Canada.

The team has played a dozen games together, with two tournaments in Toronto in May and June. They also had scrimmages in Pittsburgh and Philadelphia as well as this past weekend at Penn State’s Pegula Ice Arena.

With team members hailing from all over, practices have been held in a number of places, with a couple workouts at the arena’s Community Rink earlier in the spring and then practices on the main rink last weekend.

With last year’s team the first from the state to take part in The Brick, the Pennsylvania team struggled. They were outscored 20-7 in six games — the only team not to reach double digits in goals scored and also the only winless team.

But the kids also get to have a little fun over the week.

The tournament is held at the West Edmonton Mall — North America’s largest mall and the 10 th largest in the world. The complex includes the ice rink in addition to an indoor amusement park including rollercoasters, a water park, the world’s largest indoor lake, mini golf courses and an underground aquarium and two hotels.

“Obviously you’re playing against all the best kids,” Loya said. “At the same time the tournament does a great job with events, so after you’re done playing, there’s plenty of stuff for the kids to do. … We’re balancing making sure they’re prepared and they perform as well as they can in the games with having fun and doing all those off-ice activities, because they are 10-year-old kids.”

Janac, a defenseman and the son of Nittany Lion Club major gifts officer Rick Janac, is looking forward to the adventure, but also looking forward to the competition and playing with his teammates. When he returns, there will be more hockey this summer and also rejoining his teammates on the State College American 9-10 Little League team.

He and teammates also have a goal for the coming week.

“Score more goals than last year’s team,” Janac said.