A number of major ice hockey officials from Boston are in Belfast this week ahead of the Friendship Four tournament taking place at the SSE Arena in November.
The Inspection Team for the NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association) games are in the city today and tomorrow and were officially welcomed by the Lord Mayor, Councillor Arder Carson, at a special reception in City Hall today.
Supported by Belfast City Council, the NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association) Friendship Four tournament is a landmark event for the city as it will be the first time the games are played outside the US.
Expected to draw in large numbers of spectators from across Northern Ireland, the Republic, Britain and the US, the tournament will feature four teams from Boston playing at the SSE Arena over Thanksgiving weekend. Umass Lowell, Northeastern, Brown and Colgate universities will compete against one another on the 27 and 28 November for the coveted Belpot Trophy.
The Inspection Team visiting Belfast this week includes ECAC Hockey Commissioner Steve Hagwell, Hockey East Commissioner Joe Bertagna and Umass Lowell Director of Athletics Dana Skinner.
They will be carrying out an inspection tour of the SSE Arena on Friday and will also be watching the Belfast Giants play against Coventry Blaze on Sunday afternoon. Members of the team will also be hosting a presentation on Friday at the W5 about the NCAA with young athletes and coaches from across Northern Ireland in attendance to hear about the opportunities available to young athletes in America.
Lord Mayor, Councillor Arder Carson, said: “I’m delighted to welcome the Inspection Team to Belfast and hope their visit will be a very productive one – not only through their remit of inspecting the SSE Arena ahead of the Friendship Four games but getting to visit some of our city’s other top attractions while in Belfast.
“The buzz generated already from preparations for the Friendship Four ice-hockey tournament in both Belfast and Boston has been amazing and it can only get better.
“Bringing this prestigious tournament to Belfast is one of the first substantive results of our Sister City Agreement with Boston and it is our aim that the success of the Friendship Four games will help bolster further exchanges particularly in terms of trade missions and educational links. It will be a great boost to our economy,” he added.
The Belfast Giants will also be playing an Elite League Game on Sunday to coincide with the Friendship Four tournament during Thanksgiving weekend.
Robert Fitzpatrick, CEO of the Odyssey Trust, said: “The Odyssey Trust are very proud that the NCAA have chosen our city to host the first ever competitive NCAA games outside of America and we will be rolling out the red carpet in anticipation of a great weekend for the people of Belfast. The Friendship Four is an opportunity to give back to the communities that have supported us over the years and we truly want to make this an event that is open to all.”
Belfast City Council entered in to a Sister City Agreement with the City of Boston in May 2014 to explore business, cultural and academic links between the two cities.
The council will be financially supporting the event by enabling 4,000 schoolchildren from Belfast within both Primary and Post Primary Sectors to attend the first match of the tournament for free.