Friendship Four: all you need to know about the college ice hockey tournament
This weekend sees four of the top American colleges come to Belfast to take part in the now annual Friendship Four at the SSE Arena.
The Colgate Raiders, Northeastern Huskies, Princeton Tigers and University of New Hampshire Wildcats will all bid to become the fifth winners of the tournament, which begins on Friday afternoon.
Here, we give you the lowdown on what to expect from the event...
What is the Friendship Four?
The Friendship Four is an annual ice hockey tournament held at the SSE Arena in Belfast that sees some of the top American colleges come over and play four competitive games.
The event came about when Belfast and Boston signed a Sister Cities Agreement in 2014 and the two mayors of the cities decided that the tournament would be a good way to raise the profile of it.
Spearheaded by Odyssey Trust CEO Robert Fitzpatrick, the first tournament was played in 2015 and since then it has gone from strength to strength, growing in stature with every passing year.
This is the fifth year of the tournament and it is the first year that two teams have returned for a second appearance at the Friendship Four - Colgate and Northeastern both played the inaugural tournament in 2015.
Who has played in it in the past?
Last year, defenceman Dante Fabbro and forward Joel Farabee played for Boston University and both are now playing in the NHL for the Nashville Predators and Philadelphia Flyers respectively, but they are just the latest of a line of big-name players who have played in Belfast before.
Other current NHL players that featured in past Friendship Four tournaments include: Boston Bruins defenceman Connor Clifton (Quinnipiac, 2016), Edmonton Oilers defenceman Matt Benning (Northeastern, 2015), Pittsburgh Penguins forwards Zach Aston-Reese (Northeastern, 2015) and Sam Lafferty (Brown, 2015) and Vancouver Canucks forward Adam Gaudette (Northeastern, 2015).
So you could be seeing the next generation of NHL stars in action at the SSE Arena this weekend!
Of course, you could also be seeing some of the Belfast Giants' future stars in action too, with Darcy Murphy (Colgate, 2015), Chris Truehl (Quinnipiac, 2016) and Liam Morgan (Union College, 2018) playing in the Friendship Four before moving to Belfast.
And there are a few other familiar faces for Giants fans too, including Coventry Blaze forward Charles Corcoran (Brown, 2015) and Manchester Storm forward Mario Puskarich (Univ. of Vermont, 2016), while forward Patrick Lee (Umass-Amherst, 2016) played eight games for the Dundee Stars.
Who are the previous winners?
2015 - UMass-Lowell
2016 - University of Vermont
2017 - Clarkson University
2018 - Union College
When are the games?
Northeastern and the University of New Hampshire kick things off at 3pm on Friday afternoon in the first of the two semi-finals.
The second semi-final, which will be contested by Colgate and Princeton, is at 7pm.
On Saturday, the Consolation Game between the two losing colleges will be at 3pm, with the Championship Game at 7pm.
Who are the favourites?
The favourites are probably Northeastern, who are ranked 12th in America out of all the colleges in the NCAA system, the only side competing this week in the top-20.
The Huskies boast the NCAA's top goal scorer in Tyler Madden, who is also ranked fifth in points scoring, while netminder Craig Pantano is performing to a high standard with a .925 save percentage.
Added to that is the fact that they have won their last three games, including a 7-3 hammering of #10 Providence College, making them a formidable team.
What about the rest?
Out of the other three colleges, the University of New Hampshire were the only ones to receive any votes in the college rankings, so they are likely Northeastern's strongest competitors.
At 6-5-1 they've had a solid start to the season and ended a three-game skid with victory over Michigan last Saturday, meaning they're back on the winning trail.
On the ECAC side of the draw, Colgate and Princeton have both suffered indifferent starts to their campaigns, with Princeton in particular struggling at 1-4-3 and without a win in five.
Those two played out a 2-2 tie a week ago - NCAA games can end in a draw, unlike professional hockey games - and perhaps a change of scenery will help both of these teams.
Who are the players to watch?
COLGATE: Defenceman Nick Austin is a strong two-way man and is just as dangerous offensively at even strength as he is on the powerplay, as evidenced by seven assists this season to rank third in team scoring.
NORTHEASTERN: It has to be forward Tyler Madden, who has been one of the top players in the entire NCAA this season with 11 goals and 19 points in just 14 games. Could be a game-changer all by himself.
PRINCETON: With five goals this season, forward Corey Andonovski has been the danger-man for the Tigers and they will look to him to provide the spark on offense across the weekend.
UNIVERSITY OF NEW HAMPSHIRE: Even though he's a blue-liner, Maxwell Gildon has justified his place on the roster as UNH's highest draft pick with five goals and 13 points, making him one of the best offensive d-men in this year's tournament.
Are the games on TV?
If you can't make it to the SSE Arena - which I highly recommend you do - then all four games are live on FreeSports.
Regular commentator Aaron Murphy will provide the play-by-play, while Belfast Giants TV's own Simon Kitchen will be on analysis.
In the States, the games will be shown on NESN, which is the primary broadcaster of the Boston Bruins (hockey) and Boston Red Sox (baseball).
Where can I get tickets?
Tickets can be bought from either the SSE Arena Box Office website or by calling the Box Office on 0844 847 2455.
With the weekend's games expected to be popular, it is advised that you buy tickets beforehand rather than walking up to the Arena.
Friday's game: vs Princeton (7pm)
Record: 4-6-4 (Conf: 3-2-1)
Last five games: W-T-L-W-L
Head coach: Don Vaughan (27th season)
Captains: Jared Cockrell, Bobby McMann
Most goals: Colton Young (5)
Most assists: Nick Austin (7)
Most points: Colton Young (8)
Netminder: Mitchel Benson (2.33 GAA, .915 SAV)
#12 NORTHEASTERN HUSKIES
Conference: Hockey East
Friday's game: vs University of New Hampshire (3pm)
Record: 8-4-2 (Conf: 5-3-1)
Last five games: W-W-W-L-W
Head coach: Jim Madigan (9th season)
NHL draft picks
Jayden Struble (2019, round 2, #46 overall, Montreal Canadiens)
Matt Filipe (2016, round 3, #67 overall, Carolina Hurricanes)
Tyler Madden (2018, round 3, #68 overall, Vancouver Canucks)
Jordan Harris (2018, round 3, #71 overall, Montreal Canadiens)
Ryan Shea (2015, round 4, #121 overall, Chicago Blackhawks)
Michael Kesselring (2018, round 6, #164 overall, Edmonton Oilers)
Aidan McDonough (2014, round 7, #195 overall, Vancouver Canucks)
Riley Hughes (2018, round 7, #219 overall, New York Rangers)
Most goals: Tyler Madden (11)
Most assists: Ryan Shea (10)
Most points: Tyler Madden (19)
Netminder: Craig Pantano (2.04 GAA, .925 SAV)
- Assistant coach Jerry Keefe played for the Belfast Giants in their inaugural season back in 2000-01, scoring four goals and 14 points in 46 games
- Forward Brendan van Riemsdyk is the brother of current NHL players James van Riemsdyk (Philadelphia Flyers) and Trevor van Riemsdyk (Carolina Hurricanes)
Friday's game: vs Colgate (7pm)
Record: 1-4-3 (Conf: 0-4-2)
Last five games: L-T-OTL-T-L
Head coach: Ron Fogarty (6th season)
Captain: Derek Topatigh
Alternates: Jackson Cressey, Liam Grande
NHL draft picks
Liam Gorman (2018, round 6, #177 overall, Pittsburgh Penguins)
Most goals: Corey Andonovski (5)
Most assists: Jackson Cressey, Christian O'Neill (5)
Most points: Jackson Cressey (8)
Netminder: Ryan Ferland (2.62 GAA, .903 SAV)
UNIVERSITY OF NEW HAMPSHIRE WILDCATS
Conference: Hockey East
Friday's game: vs Northeastern (3pm)
Record: 6-5-1 (Conf: 3-3-0)
Last five games: W-L-L-L-W
Head coach: Mike Souza (2nd season)
Captain: Anthony Wyse
Alternates: Patrick Grasso, Charlie Kelleher
NHL draft picks
Maxwell Gildon (2017, round 3, #66 overall, Florida Panthers)
Mike Robinson (2015, round 3, #86 overall, San Jose Sharks)
Angus Crookshank (2018, round 5, #126 overall, Ottawa Senators)
Benton Maass (2017, round 6, #182 overall, Washington Capitals)
Ty Taylor (2018, round 7, #214 overall, Tampa Bay Lightning)
Most goals: Angus Crookshank (7)
Most assists: Jackson Pierson (11)
Most points: Maxwell Gildon, Charlie Kelleher, Jackson Pierson (13)
Netminder: Mike Robinson (2.18 GAA, .916 SAV)
- Alternate captain Patrick Grasso is a cousin of Belfast Giants defenceman Patrick Mullen
What have they said?
Colgate captain Bobby McMann
"It's been great, it's been a great city and we've had fun travelling across Ireland. The guys who had played here before said it was a great atmosphere, they have a lot of kids in for the games and everybody seems to relish it.
"The people are all excited to have us here and we're really excited to be here. We played Princeton last week, we know they're a very fast team, but we've adjusted well for this weekend and we're excited.
"College games are quick, so if we get a fast start then that would be awesome. We're not thinking about the trophy now, but if we have the chance to hoist the trophy in Belfast then that would be pretty special."
Northeastern forward Tyler Madden
"We're having fun. They've got a nice set-up, you could compare it to any college set-up in America, and now we're excited to get stuck in.
"We've heard the Friendship Four is a great time, with everything around it and getting to play in front of a new set of fans.
"Those three wins before coming here is big because you're in a different environment. We're feeling confident coming here, which is good. New Hampshire are a good team but we have to come out and play our game and not worry about them."
Princeton captain Derek Topatigh
"This is the first time for a lot of us being in the UK, so being able to tour around and see the history of the city is what makes it awesome. We've been treated like royalty too, everyone has been amazing.
"It's a once in a lifetime opportunity, so everyone is trying to soak it in and take as much from it as we can, but once we come to the rink it's all business. We're here to win two games.
"We just played Colgate, they're a team we see really often and we know it's going to be a tough game. We're real excited, we feel good in practice and we're really looking forward to getting out there."
University of New Hampshire head coach Mike Souza
"Our guys have had two up-tempo practices, they've adjusted really well to the travel, and we're also trying to enjoy everything away from the rink as well, and we're trying to make sure we're diligent in ensuring that happens. The tournament's been first class.
"Northeastern has given us fits the last couple of years. They're a good team, well coached, they have one of the best players in the country in Tyler Madden, and they've played some solid hockey.
"We'll take it one game at a time, we have a big league game on Friday. We play an up-tempo style, we're a hard working team and we're good in transition. If we play to our identity and we're detailed in the game, we're a good team."
Belfast Telegraph Digital