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Josh Wingrove

Beauty and the brick Add to ...

'Don't take a picture of this," pleads Mike Comrie, looking nervously over his shoulder as he lights several candles in his living room. Designer blankets bearing a giant "H" adorn the chairs and couches.



"My street cred is going to go down," he says, with a grin.



The candles and blankets, as well as the bodyguard and pets (four dogs, two cats) are all part of newlywed life for Comrie. Three weeks ago, he married his girlfriend of three years. They had just enough time for a quick honeymoon - four days across the Mexican border in ritzy Cabo San Lucas - before rushing back to Los Angeles. He was in training for the National Hockey League season, although he had no idea where he would play.



A decade in the league has seen him with five teams, some more than once, but he is still most closely associated with Edmonton. It's where he grew up and started his career with great fanfare, signing a multimillion-dollar contract live on Hockey Night in Canada.



Much of the fuss was because the Comrie name is almost synonymous with Alberta's capital, where father Bill had made his fortune by transforming the family furniture store into The Brick, now considered Canada's leading retailer of home furnishings with more than $1.2-billion in revenue last year.



But those ties no longer bind. Comrie has followed a path all too familiar to hockey fans in his hometown. Like his childhood idol and family friend Wayne Gretzky, he left Canada for sunny California and marriage to a film star.





Then the similarity fades. Gretzky wed second-tier actress and pinup Janet Jones before he was sold to the L.A. Kings to help build the NHL's brand in the Sun Belt. Comrie, however, moved his base here years ago, along with his father and other family members, in search of peace - more sunlight, less limelight.



His departure came after a bitter standoff with the team. Fans who wept as Gretzky left held the door for Comrie, and in Tinsel Town, rather than build a brand, he has married one: Hilary Duff, the Disney child star (Lizzie McGuire) who has gone on to become a successful singer, clothing designer and, soon, author of books for young adults.



His wife's star power has thrust him back into the spotlight that drove him from his home seven years ago. Paparazzi follow them everywhere - it's too risky to walk the dogs in daylight. But he's not about to retreat to his candle-lit sanctuary quite yet.



About to turn 30 (next Saturday), Comrie is still chasing something Gretzky has that he does not: a Stanley Cup ring.



That seemed like the impossible dream in Edmonton, but this week Comrie capped his summer to remember by agreeing to suit up this season alongside Sidney Crosby.



EDMONTON FIXTURE



Bill Comrie was a 19-year-old Chicago Blackhawks prospect when his father died in 1969 and he had to choose between hockey and the family business. To support his mother, he chose the latter and two years later sold his stake in Bill Comrie's Alberta Factory Sales to launch what would become The Brick. Heavy advertising and marketing gimmicks, such as opening at midnight for a sale, helped annual sales grow to $75-million by 1980, the year his son Mike was born and the Oilers were entering the decade in which they'd win the Cup five times.



One of the city's wealthiest residents, Comrie was also very well known for appearing in The Brick's corny TV ads. Finally, the spotlight grew too bright and, amid reports that he'd received personal threats, he hired a talking head and shunned the spotlight.



"For years, he had someone walking around protecting him from a camera," says long-time friend Dennis Erker, an Edmonton-based consultant. "We were all there to make damn sure no one ever took a picture of him. And then one day he realized he became public property."



The reclusiveness continued when he lost his wife and had three youngsters to raise. "He was always doing his best to keep our lives private, growing up," Mike recalls.

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