As Thanksgiving break approaches and most Yale fans prepare to lay back and relax, the Bulldog men’s ice hockey team is gearing up for a weeklong trip to Northern Ireland, where they will take on upper-level competition at the Friendship Four Tournament.
Yale (2–2–1, 2–2–1 ECAC Hockey), UConn (5–4–1, 2–3–1 Hockey East), Union College (7–3–1, 3–3–0 ECAC Hockey) and Boston University (2–4–1, 2–2–1 Hockey East) will hit the ice in Belfast next weekend to battle it out for the Belpot Trophy. Past participants include Brown, Quinnipiac and last year’s champion Clarkson. Though the tournament is contested on international ice, all four games will still count towards each team’s season record. On the line is not only a trophy but also the chance for each team to improve its nonconference resume.
“The hockey is going to be really competitive. That’s the main reason we’re going,” head coach Keith Allain ’80 said. “Otherwise, I’m looking forward to seeing the new culture and giving the guys an educational and cultural experience. The only thing that will be different is that we’re going to be playing on international ice surfaces, so the rink is going to be 20 feet wider and we have to take that into account. Otherwise, we’re playing good college hockey teams and we’re going to try to beat one another.”
Held every year in Belfast, the Friendship Four was established in 2015 to honor a sister city agreement between Belfast and Boston. By hosting an annual collegiate ice hockey tournament, the cities hope to foster cultural, economic and academic relationships between Northern Ireland and the United States. The two-day event, which features three other Division I opponents, is an opportunity for communities to unite in enthusiasm for amateur sports and inspire cultural ties between the two regions.
The Bulldogs will arrive in Dublin on Monday, where they will sightsee before traveling to Belfast. The rest of the week will be devoted mainly to practice, though all four squads will also spend time visiting local school children. The games are held on Friday and Saturday at The SSE Arena, Wembley. Friday’s games feature matchups between Yale and Union as well as UConn and BU. On the Saturday after Thanksgiving, the losers will play for third place in the morning while the championship contest will take place at 2 p.m. Coming into Friday’s semifinal off a tough weekend at home with a 3–3 tie against Harvard and a 3–0 loss to Dartmouth, the Bulldogs look to turn their opening record around.
“For us it’s a great chance to bond and do something different,” captain and defenseman Anthony Walsh ’19 said. “We get to go to Ireland and I don’t think anybody on our team has ever been there, so it’s going to be a great experience for us and we’re very excited. It’s good for us to get away and go on a trip like this because it gives the team a great chance to come together and hopefully pull two wins while we’re there.”
Up first for the Elis is the game against the Dutchmen, a team that has won three of its last four contests. Early on in its season, Union put up impressive showings against ranked opposition, sweeping No. 13 Northeastern in two consecutive games — 4–3 in overtime and 3–1 on the following night. The team then knocked off No. 14 Quinnipiac 5–1 in Hamden in its last time out.
The Bulldogs’ defense will have to work hard to keep a potent offense at bay. Union has put up an average of 3.5 goals per game compared to Yale’s 2.4. Forward Cole Maier has played well early and is one to look out for on the ice. He leads Union this season with five goals and eight assists. With this matchup, the teams will clash in a rare out-of-conference game before the sides face off again in less than a month in New Haven.
“Playing an ECAC rival in the first game will just increase the excitement around the tournament as well,” defenseman Billy Sweezey ’20 said. “ I know everyone is looking forward to the experience and can’t wait to get over there.”
Coach Allain and his team will also keep a close eye on the dogfight between the Huskies and Terriers. The perennially strong Boston program has struggled so far this season. A shocking 4–0 defeat to an unranked Merrimack side, along with losses to No. 9 Providence and a sweep at the hands No. 3 Minnesota State, has left first-year coach Albie O’Connell searching for a way to rally his team. Meanwhile, UConn has gotten off to a solid start this year, losing by narrow margins to nationally ranked opposition. The Huskies suffered a hard-fought defeat to Quinnipiac 4–2 before losing on the road to Northeastern 3–2 last Friday.
The Bulldogs drop the puck against Union at 10 a.m. on Nov. 23 with another game to be determined on the following Saturday.
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