Belfast Giants to make a bid for return of the Bruins
The Belfast Giants are to launch an ambitious bid to bring NHL kingpins the Boston Bruins back to Northern Ireland.
Plans are already being drawn up to extend an invite to the Bruins, who previously played a pre-season game at the Odyssey Arena in October 2010.
And the Giants owners, the Odyssey Trust, have a key player on their side as they attempt to pull off what would be a major coup.
Boston mayor Marty Walsh is visiting Belfast this weekend and he will host Odyssey Trust chief executive Robert Fitzpatrick and Giants Director of Hockey Operations Steve Thornton in two weeks' time when an official approach to the Bruins is also expected to be made.
"We have the ambition to bring the Bruins back to Belfast," said Thornton.
"They won the Stanley Cup at the end of the season after they were in Belfast and almost every hockey player I have come across is superstitious, so I am sure that would help our case.
"We will definitely have the conversation and then see where it goes from there."
The fact that the Bruins last visit to Northern Ireland came just after Thornton's first spell as Giants coach had come to an end makes the prospect of bringing them back to Belfast and even more exciting for him.
"We all want to do something like this as an event for Northern Ireland," he said.
"It would be a real benefit for tourism and it would also be a great opportunity to show Belfast off as a real international city."
While a visit from the Bruins is the ultimate ambition and may take a while to happen, the Giants and the Odyssey Trust have a short-term goal to bring a prestigious US college tournament, which is based in Boston, out of the city for the first time and hold it in Belfast.
The Beanpot is played for annually between the Boston University Terriers, Boston College Eagles, Harvard University Crimson and the Northeastern University Huskies.
It is a competition that Thornton knows well, having played in the winning Boston University team.
He hopes that a two-fold attack will help bring about an agreement from the four colleges to relocate their tournament to the Odyssey.
"When I was at college we always had Christmas tournaments and I can remember going to Wisconsin, Dartmouth and California to play in them," he said.
"They were a big part of the college culture and when I look back the best memories I have of my time there were, one winning the NCAA title in 1995. Two, winning the Beanpot and three, the Christmas tournaments.
"I believe that if you can role the Beanpot and a trip to Belfast into one it becomes very attractive.
"The mayor loved the idea and he has come here to endorse it.
"We had a good meeting with him and he will do what he can to speak to the right people to see if we can do this.
"We are going to Boston in October for more meetings with the colleges and we hope they will see the attraction."
Before that Thornton's focus is on picking up four points from two home Elite League games this weekend.
They face current league leaders Coventry Blaze tonight (7pm) followed by a clash with the Fife Flyers tomorrow (4pm) and Thornton is aware of how difficult getting two wins will be.
"Four points is our goal this weekend, like it always is at home," he said.
"We are going up against a team that is coming here top of the table right now and they won't want to give that up.
"Fife have a similar roster to last year – if not a better one – and they competed with the top teams then, so on paper they should be doing it again.
"We know how tough the opposition will be, but if we are on our game then we would expect to win."