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US college teams serve up a treat for Belfast ice hockey fans

By Stuart McKinley

Published 26/11/2016

Up close: Vermont’s Stefanos Lekkas blocks Minutemen’s Steven Iacobellis during yesterday’s Friendship Four game at SSE Arena
Up close: Vermont’s Stefanos Lekkas blocks Minutemen’s Steven Iacobellis during yesterday’s Friendship Four game at SSE Arena

Vermont University and Quinnipiac University will contest the Belpot Final at the SSE Arena tonight.

They both came through tight semi-finals to make the Friendship Four decider, which is anticipated to be another closely contested encounter.

The organisers handed out free tickets to a number of schools across Northern Ireland and the large crowd inside the arena were fully entertained as Vermont defeated the University of Massachusetts 4-2 in the first of yesterday's semi-final games followed by a tense, yet scoreless, battle between Quinnipiac University and St Lawrence University, which was decided on a penalty shoot-out.

The Vermont Cats put on a great display of character to earn their place in the final, coming from two goals down to win the game - which was only sealed after Massachusetts pulled their goaltender in the final minute.

It was the Minutemen of Massachusetts who made a flying start to the game.

Griff Jeszka opened the scoring with just 2:06 on the clock and it was 2-0 at 3:12 thanks to Shane Bear.

Vermont had dominated the shot count during the first period, but they were still trailing before the comeback started just before the midway point of the game.

When the first goal came along the second followed quickly after.

Derek Lodermeier got the first at 29:19 after being set up by Mark Alvaro.

A hooking offence in the build-up to the goal put the Cats on a powerplay and it was with a man advantage that they levelled the scores through Craig Puffer.

The game was set up for a thrilling finish as the teams were locked at 2-2 as the game entered the third period.

It didn't stay that way for long though as the Cats turned the game around when Puffer scored his second of the game at 43:46.

The Minutemen weren't out of it and they threw caution to the wind when the goaltender was pulled with 1:05 to go, but with just two seconds left on the clock Alvaro put the puck into the empty net to cap a dramatic comeback.

The second semi-final between Quinnipiac University and St Lawrence University was no less exciting, even if it did go a massive 65 minutes before producing a goal.

The teams just couldn't break the deadlock during regulation time, despite Gavin Beyreuther hitting the post twice in quick succession during the first period.

When overtime came they upped the ante, with lots of rubber being thrown at both goaltenders, particularly by the Saints.

The match remained deadlocked right until the end of the overtime period and even when it came to the shoot-out there only one goal - but Nick Jermain's finish was enough to put Quinnipiac into tonight's decider.

Friendship Four schedule: Third place play-off: University of Massachusetts v St Lawrence (4pm), Final: Vermont University v Quinnipiac University (7.30pm).

Belfast Telegraph

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