Winning in Belfast would mean so much to me, says Huskies coach Jerry Keefe
It's eighteen years since Jerry Keefe has been part of an ice hockey team in Belfast, but on Saturday night he has the chance to win a trophy at the SSE Arena.
One of the 'originals', so to speak, of the Belfast Giants having been a part of their inaugural roster in 2000-01, Keefe has returned to Northern Ireland this week as part of the Northeastern Huskies team for the Friendship Four.
Of course, now retired, he's not among the playing staff but rather as one of the coaching panel with the Northeastern team, but he's just as keen to pick up some silverware.
Keefe's team will get a chance to provide him with a trophy when they take on the Colgate Raiders in Saturday night's Belpot Trophy decider, with Northeastern favourites to become the fifth winners.
Ranked 12th in the NCAA, and coming off the back of a dominant 4-0 shut-out of the University of New Hampshire in Friday's semi-final, the Huskies are looking to be in confident form.
But Keefe insists they don't consider themselves to be favourites and won't underestimate Colgate, who had to fight to see off a stubborn opponent in the Princeton Tigers in their last-four clash.
"The season is still so early and Colgate is a really good team, so we aren't treating them lightly at all. We're going to have play really well to beat them," insists Keefe.
"It'd be awesome (to win). Any time you can play for a trophy, and we talked about this with the captains during the week, when a trophy is up for grabs it's a little more important.
"You're coming all the way over to Europe to play two games so you want to put your best foot forward. To win it would be very special.
"Playing here and coming back here means a bit more to me. It's something that would feel really nice, coming back here and winning a trophy as a coach."
Off the ice, Northeastern have embraced the tournament as well, spending a day in Dublin and travelling up north to see the Giant's Causeway as part of their excursion to Northern Ireland.
It's a key side of the week-long event, which is not just a hockey tournament but is also a vital growing experience for the college students, and Keefe says they've greatly enjoyed their time.
"A lot of guys haven't been to Europe before but they're really enjoying it so far. It's a tremendous city. I really enjoyed my time when I played here, I believe it's one of the best European cities," praises the assistant coach.
Morgan's guide to success
How to win the Friendship Four?
For the conclusive answer, look no further than one of the players from last year's winning side - current Belfast Giants winger Liam Morgan.
The 21-year-old was part of the Union College team that defeated Boston University 2-1 in the Belpot Trophy final last season, becoming the fourth winners of the tournament.
So, what's Morgan's advice to the Northeastern and Colgate players taking to the ice tonight?
"The whole NCAA mentality is consistency because it’s such a short season. Consistency is a big thing in a two game tournament," says the Canadian.
"Obviously since (the tournament) is so short, you need to play well in both games and you need a bit of luck going for you as well."
And, like seemingly everybody else, the 2018 champion has sung the tournament's praises for the experience it provides for the players, both on and off the ice.
"As college students it’s a ton of fun coming over into a different environment. It’s a different experience but I know all of my buddies enjoyed it," adds Morgan.
"I’ve got a few kids I grew up with playing on Princeton so I’ve been showing them around a bit. Truly a once in a lifetime experience."
Belfast Telegraph Digital