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College ice hockey frozen out as 2020 Friendship Four cancelled due to coronavirus

 

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Northeastern Huskies take on the Colgate Raiders in last year's Friendship Four final at the SSE Arena (William Cherry/PressEye)

Northeastern Huskies take on the Colgate Raiders in last year's Friendship Four final at the SSE Arena (William Cherry/PressEye)

William Cherry/Presseye

Northeastern Huskies take on the Colgate Raiders in last year's Friendship Four final at the SSE Arena (William Cherry/PressEye)

Organisers of the Friendship Four have confirmed it will not be played in Belfast this year due to concerns over the coronavirus pandemic.

The annual ice hockey tournament, which brings some of the best American colleges to Belfast every year, was due to be played at the SSE Arena in November, with Army West Point, Mercyhurst, Quinnipiac and Sacred Heart competing.

However, it has now been confirmed that the tournament, which was gearing up for its sixth edition, will not be played in Northern Ireland this year.

Concerns existed over both the safety of the players due to the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic and the feasibility of the event given all four colleges would have been required to quarantine under government guidelines when they arrived in Northern Ireland.

As well as that, it seems unlikely that spectators would have been able to attend at the SSE Arena under those same government guidelines, which would have left the teams playing in front of an empty arena.

Fans who had bought tickets for the event will be issued a full refund.

The tournament has been a massive success in recent years, with players and staff from the competing universities raving about the experience they receive when travelling over, as well as the hospitality they are afforded, with the teams making school visits into the community.

Some of the top players in the NHL have been past players in the Friendship Four, with the likes of Matt Benning, Zach Aston-Reese, Dante Fabbro and Adam Gaudette having all been a part of the tournament across its five-year run.

Off the ice there are many positives that come from the event too, with the competing colleges encouraged to bring over other students on exchange programmes, while the Odyssey Trust use it to promote education, social welfare and community integration in Northern Ireland.

In past years, schools have been issued free tickets to encourage them to come and see the games in person, as well as receiving visits from the teams, while the final has regularly attracted around 5,000 fans each year.

Eric Porter, chairman of the Odyssey Trust, commented: "I would like to thank both ECAC Hockey commissioner Steve Hagwell and Atlantic Hockey commissioner Bob DeGregorio, as well as the 2020 participants Quinnipiac, Sacred Heart, Army West Point and Mercyhurst University, for their tireless and unwavering belief in the Friendship Four tournament and its wider objectives.

"The Odyssey Trust, along with the participants and league commissioners will continue to explore all options to ensure the legacy of the Friendship Four tournament will endure through this challenging time.

"The Friendship Four tournament and all of its wider community objectives would not be possible without the tremendous support from the Northern Ireland community and all of its tournament partners."

This is the latest hit for local ice hockey, with the Belfast Giants learning last week that the start of the new Elite Ice Hockey League season would be pushed back to December due to the coronavirus.

Belfast Telegraph