Excitement builds for Harness Friendship Four as US college teams arrive in Belfast

Schoolchildren from across Belfast will join thousands of spectators and hockey fans to cheer on four top US college ice hockey teams at the prestigious Harness Friendship Four tournament at The SSE Arena, Belfast this weekend.

The tournament returns for the first time since 2019, due to the Covid-19 pandemic, promising two packed days of high energy, fast-paced hockey in the heart of Belfast over Thanksgiving weekend (Friday 25 and Saturday 26 November 2022).

The first and only NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association) Division One ice hockey tournament to take place outside the United States, the high-profile tournament, organised by The Odyssey Trust, brings four top US college hockey teams - UMass Lowell River Hawks, Massachusetts Minutemen (UMass), Quinnipiac Bobcats and Dartmouth Big Green - together to compete for the coveted Belpot trophy at The SSE Arena, Belfast. With the teams now in Belfast, final preparations are under way for the tournament this weekend.

Promising an exceptionally high standard of hockey, local fans will have the chance to see some of the stars of the future compete in Belfast this weekend. Some of the young players that have competed in previous Friendship Four tournaments have gone on to progress into the NHL, whilst the tournament has also proven to be a strong scouting opportunity for the Belfast Giants. Current Giants Scott Conway, Jeff Baum and Matt Foley were first seen on Belfast ice, when they played for their college teams at the tournament.

Schoolchildren from across Belfast will join thousands of spectators and hockey fans to cheer on four top US college ice hockey teams at the prestigious Harness Friendship Four tournament at The SSE Arena, Belfast this weekend

The Odyssey Trust, supported by partners,Harness, Belfast City Council, Department for Communities, Cara Travel, Northern Irish Connections and Tourism Ireland has provided free tickets to local schools and community groups. The college teams are also scheduled to conduct school visits while they are in town this week.

Over 1,000 local schoolchildren willvisit W5 on Friday, ahead of the opening game, to take part in W5’s Big STEM Day in association with Microsoft, with access toover 250 interactive exhibits, workshops and science shows, aimed at engaging and inspiring young minds with all aspects of science, technology, engineering and maths.

Speaking ahead of the opening weekend, Martin McDowell, chairman, The Odyssey Trust said: “The 2022 Harness Friendship Four will be our biggest and best tournament yet, supported by an exceptional STEM learning and engagement and outreach programme led by W5. Combined, these events will have far-reaching impact for young people in communities across Belfast, in keeping with the trust’s founding aim to provide access to leisure and learning opportunities that improve life chances for the people of Northern Ireland.”

Lord Mayor of Belfast, Councillor Christina Black will lead a procession of schoolchildren from W5 to The SSE Arena, before dropping the puck to officially open the Harness Friendship Four tournament for 2022 for the first game between Dartmouth Big Green and the Quinnipiac Bobcats.

Schoolchildren from across Belfast will join thousands of spectators and hockey fans to cheer on four top US college ice hockey teams at the prestigious Harness Friendship Four tournament at The SSE Arena, Belfast this weekend

Speaking ahead of the event, Lord Mayor of Belfast, Councillor Black said: “The excitement is really building for the return of the Harness Friendship Four. It’s fantastic to see the return of this prestigious tournament to Belfast. Building on the strong foundations of our Sister City agreement with Boston, the tournament boosts our reputation for hosting major sporting events in the city.

“Once again, the tournament will also bring young people from communities from right across Belfast together, to enjoy memorable days out, with the opportunity to see first-class ice hockey talent, and future stars in the making, on the ice in Belfast.”

The Harness Friendship Four will be streamed live to audiences in the US onNESN+.BBC Sport NI will also air highlights on BBC Three for three of the games: Sunday 27 November. Game one: Dartmouth versus Quinnipiac 12.45am-2.15am (Saturday night/Sunday morning); Sunday 27 November. Game two: Massachusetts University versus UMass Lowell 2.15am-3.45am; and Monday 28 November. Final: 12.50am-2.50am (Sunday night/Monday morning).

The highlights programmes will also be available on BBC iPlayer.

Helen McGorman, Tourism Ireland’s head of stakeholder engagement Northern Ireland, said: “Tourism Ireland is delighted to welcome the Friendship Four ice hockey tournament to Belfast. And we’re really pleased that footage of Northern Ireland and our spectacular scenery is set to air on TV in North America and GB – around the broadcasts of the tournament matches and during the breaks.

“With a huge audience expected to be watching the tournament, it’s a wonderful opportunity to showcase Northern Ireland to viewers in these important tourism markets, as they begin to consider their holiday destination for next year.

“As we look to 2023, our aim is to drive demand for holidays in Northern Ireland from around the world and rebuild overseas tourism.”

Limited tickets are still available for the Harness Friendship Four 2022, via FriendshipFour.com and Ticketmaster.ie, priced at £10 for adults and £5 for children per game. A four-game pass is also available, priced at £30 for adults and £15 for children. A service charge and facility fee will apply to all ticket types.

The Friendship Four 2022 game schedule is as follows: Friday 25 November 2022, 2pm: Dartmouth Big Green versus Quinnipiac Bobcats and 7pm: Massachusetts Minutemen versus UMass Lowell River Hawks. Saturday 26 November 2022, 3pm: Third place game and 7pm: Championship game.