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Saturday, April 11, 2015

Boston-Belfast Announce new Collegiate Hockey Tournament, the Friendship Four

Boston and Belfast have iced a deal to launch a brand new American collegiate hockey tournament in Northern Ireland this November.

The Friendship Four Ice Hockey Tournament will compete in the Odyssey Arena in Belfast over Thanksgiving weekend, November 27-28, 2015, and will feature Northeastern University, University of Massachusetts at Lowell, Brown University and Colgate University.  All four teams are in Division One of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA).

The Odyssey Arena in Belfast is home to the city’s Belfast Giants professional hockey team.

Boston Mayor Marty Walsh and Belfast Lord Mayor Arder Carson, along with hockey officials from both cities, made the announcement on Friday outside the TD Garden, where the NCAA Frozen Four championships are being played.

Walsh predicted that the American college games will bring a new level of excitement to fans who religiously follow the Belfast Giants.  The tournament will also draw hockey fans from the USA, Canada, and other European countries.

“These are real games, these aren’t scrimmage or exhibition games,” Walsh said.  “The teams will have to play to win” in order to quality for the NCAA tournament in the USA.

The four teams will compete for the Belpot Trophy, a variation on Boston’s popular annual Beanpot Tourney, which pits local teams Boston College, Boston University, Harvard and Northeastern against one another.

The new tournament is an outgrowth of the Sister City agreement between Boston and Belfast, signed in May 2014 by Mayor Walsh and Belfast’s previous Lord Máirtín Ó Muilleoir.  And Mayor Walsh met with Belfast officials in September 2014 during a trip to Ireland. 

The notion of American sports teams playing in Ireland was first conceived by Massachusetts sports star and business leader Jim O’Brien, when he organized the Emerald Isle Classic, a football game between Boston College and the U.S. Military Academy’s Army squad in November 1988 in Dublin’s Lansdowne Stadium.  It was a smashing success.  Since then several other football games have been played in Dublin, including the Penn StateUniversity of Central Florida match up at Croke Park in August 2014.

Organizers said the NCAA has made a commitment to send teams to Belfast for the next four or five years, with hopes that the tournament becomes a permanent fixture of the college hockey season.

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