Belfast Lord Mayor, Arder Carson, getting a 2015 Belpot game underway.
By Evan Short
The Friendship Four ice-hockey festival will return to Ireland in 2016 with four new colleges from the U.S. confirming they will compete for the Belpot Trophy in Belfast.
The announcement was made at a special ceremony in Boston attended by the Lord Mayor of Belfast, Councilor Arder Carson.
The decision to continue the competition is a major boost for Belfast after the inaugural tournament - played out last year between UMass Lowell, Northeastern University, Brown University and Colgate University - attracted large crowds.
The games were played over Thanksgiving Weekend in November with the tournament welcoming 600 visitors from Boston and North America to the city through participation or attendance at the event. Visitor spending was estimated at £273,000.
The games were also televised live to millions of ice hockey fans in the U.S. and Canada.
This year, Quinnipiac University, the University of Vermont, St. Lawrence University from upstate New York, and the University of Massachusetts will travel to Belfast on Friday and Saturday November 25 and 26 to compete in the tournament.
Each of the teams competes in the NCAA’s Division One.
The squads will square off at The SSE Arena, home of the Belfast Giants, a professional team that competes within the Elite Ice Hockey League.
Mayor Carson said: “I’m delighted that the historic Friendship Four Ice Hockey Festival is returning to Belfast for the second year in a row.
“Hosting such a prestigious event was a major coup for the city last year in terms of showcasing Belfast globally, boosting tourism and building on the strong business, academic and cultural links between Boston and Belfast.
“I know that the organizers will work to ensure that the festival is bigger and better this year,” he said.
Belfast signed a Sister City Agreement with Boston in May 2014, the partnership’s aim being to foster economic, academic and cultural links between the two cities.
In a release on its participation, Connecticut-based Quinnipiac said its team, the top rated Bobcats, will face ECAC Hockey foe St. Lawrence in the tournament, while Massachusetts will play Vermont, with the winners playing for the Belpot Trophy.
“This is another great opportunity for Quinnipiac University, our program and for college hockey,” Quinnipiac Head Coach Rand Pecknold said.
“Quinnipiac President John Lahey has made incredible strides in expanding Quinnipiac’s reach in Ireland and also bringing Irish culture to Hamden with Ireland’s Great Hunger Museum at Quinnipiac University. The Friendship Four tournament was a great success last year and we look forward to being part of its growth for the future,” he said.
“We are very excited about returning to Belfast to participate in the second annual Friendship Four tournament. Our friends in Belfast provided a tremendous first-class experience for everyone involved in the 2015 inaugural event,” said ECAC Hockey commissioner, Steve Hagwell.
“We are honored to have UMass, Quinnipiac, St. Lawrence and Vermont comprise the 2016 tournament field, and very much look forward to having them compete in such a memorable and significant endeavor.”
Quinnipiac has appeared in the last three consecutive NCAA Tournaments. In 2012-13, Quinnipiac advanced to its first NCAA Frozen Four in program history before losing in the National Championship Game.
The Bobcats advanced to the NCAA Regional Tournament in 2013-14 and 2014-15, and with the top spot in the PairWise Rankings for 15 consecutive weeks, Quinnipiac is likely to make its fourth consecutive tournament, the Quinnipiac release said.