Over 22,000 people turned out over four games at The SSE Arena, Belfast, as four top U.S. college hockey teams - UMass Lowell River Hawks, Massachusetts Minutemen (UMass), Quinnipiac Bobcats and Dartmouth Big Green – battled it out for the coveted Belpot Trophy in Belfast.
The first game on Friday, attended by thousands of schoolchildren from across Belfast, pitted the Quinnipiac Bobcats against the UMass Lowell River Hawks, with the Bobcats claiming a comfortable 5-2 win.
The next game was a battle between two UMass schools, with the Massachusetts Minutemen facing off against rivals, the UMass Lowell River Hawks. Two goals from freshman Kenny Connors helped UMass advance to the Belpot Championship game, securing a 2-1 victory over UMass Lowell.
Saturday’s consolation game had all the energy and pace of a final, with the UMass Lowell River Hawks overturning a three-goal deficit to take third place, clinching a 4-3 victory over Dartmouth Big Green in an overtime thriller.
There was an electric atmosphere in a packed SSE Arena, Belfast for the nail-biting final between the Quinnipiac Bobcats and the Massachusetts Minutemen. With the game tied 2-2 at full time, and the scoreboard unchanged after five minutes of overtime, it was a showdown of goaltenders that decided the fate of this year’s Belpot. In a best-of-three shootout where Quinnipiac’s Cristophe Teller netted the only goal, a jaw-dropping save from #1 Yaniv Perets sealed the deal for the Bobcats.
The Friendship Four was born in 2015, following the Belfast Boston Sister Cities agreement in 2014, helping to build links between the two cities through the medium of sport. The first and only NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association) Division One ice hockey tournament to take place outside the United States, the high-profile tournament organised by The Odyssey Trust, continues to grow to this day.
The tournament was broadcasted to a North American audience via NESN+, with three special highlights programmes airing globally on BBC Three and BBC iPlayer on Sunday and Monday.
Speaking at the final, Martin McDowell, Chairman, The Odyssey Trust said: “This year’s Harness Friendship Four was our biggest and best yet, with over 22,000 people packing out four games here at The SSE Arena, Belfast. Our congratulations go to the Quinnipiac Bobcats, who tonight entered the history books as the sixth team to lift the Belpot Trophy in Belfast.
“We have been treated to an exceptional standard of hockey this weekend, and off the ice, in partnership with W5, the tournament has also delivered an impactful learning and engagement programme that will have far-reaching impacts for young people in communities right across Belfast. Building on our Sister Cities Agreement with Boston, this tournament has put Belfast on the map in terms of tourism and showcases our ability to host major events such as this, portraying a positive image of the city on a global scale.
“I would also like to thank our partners, Harness, Belfast City Council, Department for Communities, Cara Travel, Microsoft, Northern Irish Connections and Tourism Ireland, without whom, this tournament would not be possible.”
Tech company, Harness, is the headline sponsor for the 2022 tournament and W5’s Science and Discovery Month. Speaking at the final, Andrew Magill, Talent Acquisition Lead, Europe, Harness said: “It’s been a fantastic weekend, with thousands of young people, families and hockey fans coming together for two great days of hockey.
“As a global company with a base in Belfast, our relationship with the Belfast Giants and our sponsorship of this tournament and W5’s Science & Discovery Month, has given us an opportunity to connect with the local community here in Belfast in a meaningful way. The Belfast Giants have created a welcoming, open, and inclusive space for people from all communities here. In a similar way, the Friendship Four extends the hand of friendship, bringing people together across the city and beyond. Inclusion and diversity are so important to us at Harness, and we are proud to partner with The Odyssey Trust on this impactful project that has these values at its core.”
With an exceptionally high standard of hockey on show over the weekend, local fans had the opportunity to see stars of the future compete at The SSE Arena, Belfast. Some of the young players that competed here will undoubtedly follow in the footsteps of former Friendship Four alumni to progress into the NHL. The tournament may also yet prove to be a scouting opportunity for the Belfast Giants. Several Giants, past and present, have had their first taste of Belfast while playing in the tournament – including current players, Scott Conway, Jeff Baum, and Matt Foley.