What to Expect from Friendship Four 2017

The Friendship Four Festival of Hockey returns for the third year to the SSE Arena in November 2017. Just like this years 4 college teams, travelers are now getting ready to take Dublin & Belfast by storm. Proudly involved in the tournament, read the biggest lessons we took away from 2016 because it can only get better in 2017…

Fresh off the ice from Bostons Fenway Park, is the latest announcement from the organizers at Friendship Four which today revealed which hockey teams will take their skates over the Atlantic to participate in the 2017 and 2018 tournament. This year, Belfast will have to patiently wait until November for Clarkson University, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, University of Maine and Providence College to take to the ice whereas Boston University, Yale University, Union College and University of Connecticut can plan their game strategy as well as thanksgiving plans for Belfast in 2018.

With travel packages now available for the Friendship Four Tournament 2017, we at the office have thought back to our first experience with Friendship Four and what we have learned being involved in the 2016 tournament.


1. Friendship Four is a BIG Deal

I remember the office watching the following video from the first tournament in 2015 just after Cara Group Travel got involved with the Friendship Four. Instantly, we recognized this event as something powerful, not just for the opening of doors between Boston and Belfast but also bringing the local people together to enjoy an outstanding sporting event which is now part of the new culture in Northern Ireland.

With this in mind, it is short of amazing that the 2016 tournament had 22,000+ fans attending the four ice-hockey games over the weekend and 70 television networks showing the games across the USA, Canada, United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland, making the tournament one of Northern Ireland’s most televised events ever.

With the announcement that the tournament will return for two further years in the city which hosted the 2011 MTV Europe Music Awards and just had their most prominent attraction named as Worlds Leading Tourist Attraction 2016, I have a feeling the Stena Line Belfast Giants, whose home is the SSE Arena, may get an extra fan or two over 2017 and 2018.


2. The Champs Were Crowned BUT There Were More Hero’s Than Expected

So it was The Catamounts from the University of Vermont who came out on top in Belfast, beating Quinnipiac in the final to raise or more uniquely, ring the Belpot Trophy at The SSE Arena. An outstanding display from the Catamounts clinched a 5-1 victory and the title of Friendship Four 2016 Champions – but there is no doubt that all four teams who walked away from the tournament left behind more than just the gift of ice hockey.

We had heard from 2015 a fundamental part of the Friendship Four was the interaction between local school children and the players themselves and after witnessing it firsthand in 2016, all four teams did indeed leave behind inspiration, confidence and positivity for the young minds who will shape the future in Northern Ireland. Concerned I’m not doing it justice, don’t just take my word for it – just listen to the champs.


3. Belfast Loves Hockey

Northern Ireland’s sporting success is well documented and its success stories are often found on the green grasses of the country rather than on the ice. While soccer legend George Best and golfing star Rory McElroy are household names as Northern Ireland born and raised superstars, there is an unassuming yet infectious passion for ice hockey in the country, particularly in Belfast.

Thanks in part to the city’s very own Belfast Giants, one of Northern Ireland’s top professional sporting organizations and the most successful team in the Elite League with over 5,000 fans cheering the team on at every home game. Significant if not a breakthrough for Belfast, ice-hockey is viewed as a cross community sport and so the event whic his open for all, can very easily evokes that unique and united sense of Northern Irish pride. 

With Belfast set to be considered as the host of one the world’s biggest ice hockey competitions, Northern Ireland’s Ice Hockey fans are a growing and dedicated fan base who have most certainly earned its hockey stripes. In 2016, it was no surprise we heard a lot of agreement from locals exiting the SSE Arena about who would be the Friendship Four MVP – 73 saves, come on?!


4. Thanksgiving in Northern Ireland is Something Special

Friendship Four is held on Thanksgiving weekend and with players, staff and supporters arriving before the weekend games, Cara Group Travel organized a very special Thanksgiving Evening to celebrate and to remember. While the tournament is a lot of things, it is quite unique in that it is an occasion for family and friends to spend Thanksgiving with their son, whose schedule is assumed to be full of commitments from university and ice hockey, in a country that actually does not celebrate Thanksgiving.

But all that means, is that there is no greater excuse to celebrate – Northern Ireland style. In 2016, we took a page from George R.R. Martin’s award winning series Game of Thrones, which is extensively filmed across Co. Antrim and Northern Ireland. We held a Thanksgiving Evening for all right from Winterfell Castle, home of the Stark family, where we enjoyed a medieval banquet experience on the castle grounds – see, I told you it was unique!

We are already busy working on something Titanic for 2017 and we would love nothing more than for you to join us.


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