The Friendship Series is the first and only NCAA Division One women’s ice hockey tournament to be held outside of the United States. The event is an extension of the Friendship Four tournament, which was devised by The Odyssey Trust in 2015 and has been developed year-on-year to promote education, social welfare, and community integration in Northern Ireland, building on the Sister City agreement between Belfast and Boston.
While in the United States the inaugural game of the all-new Professional Women’s Hockey League (PWHL) took place between New York and Toronto on Monday 1 January 2024, closer to home, thousands of spectators, including local community groups and school children, watched Princeton University and Providence College face-off in a two-game series across Friday 5 and Saturday 6 January 2024 in Belfast.
Robert Fitzpatrick, Chief Executive Officer of The Odyssey Trust, said: “I’m incredibly proud to have welcomed Princeton University and Providence College – two of the top NCAA women’s teams – to Belfast, for what was a fantastic two days of hockey. Aside from the on-ice action, it was fantastic to see both teams immerse themselves in all that Northern Ireland has to offer, experiencing a new culture and creating lifelong memories.”
During their time in Belfast, each team had the opportunity to visit a number of Northern Irish landmarks, including the Giants Causeway and the Dark Hedges, as well as visit two local primary schools – Brooklands and Rosetta – where they took part in Q&A sessions and hockey-related games with pupils.
Cara Morey, Head Coach of Princeton University, commented: “I think this experience is going to catapult the team over the second half of the season. I had never been to Northern Ireland before and didn’t know what to expect. At Princeton, we talk about education through athletics, and the amount that we’ve learned throughout this trip has exceeded our expectations. Everybody has been so gracious, and they treated us like professional athletes. It’s been amazing.”
On the eve of the opening game of the 2024 Friendship Series, the Lord Mayor of Belfast, Councillor Ryan Murphy, welcomed representatives from Princeton University and Providence College’s women’s ice hockey teams to Belfast City Hall before dropping the first puck of the tournament on Friday 5 January 2024.
With a primary focus of the tournament being education, The Odyssey Trust, in conjunction with Ulster University, hosted a Sport & Health Science Masterclass in W5 on the morning of the opening game of the 2024 Friendship Series. Over 60 female pupils from Strathearn School and Hunterhouse College took part in sport and health science-focused workshops and talks, facilitated by industry professionals from Ulster University and Lasell University, before making their way over to The SSE Arena, Belfast to watch Princeton University claim a 6-1 victory over Providence College.
Matt Kelly, Head Coach of Providence College, said: “It’s been great. The crowds were awesome for both games, and we’re honoured to have played in front of everyone. We’ve got a special group; they’re so close-knit, and our team chemistry is second to none, so I knew this trip was going to be great for them. We’ve had a blast travelling overseas and being a part of this whole experience.”
Also announced over the weekend was the formation of the Friends of the Friendship Four Advisory Board – a new legacy committee dedicated to the growth and development of the Friendship Four. Meeting twice a year – once in Boston and once at the annual Friendship Four tournament in Belfast – the Board is designed to advocate for the development of the Friendship Four, with a focus on growing relationships with collegiate hockey programmes across the United States.
The Friendship Four returns to Belfast over Thanksgiving weekend in November 2024, with Boston University, Harvard University, Merrimack College, and the University of Notre Dame going head-to-head for the coveted Belpot Trophy.