by Rhonda R. McClure

In just a couple of weeks the puck will drop on the first of four contests in the first ever Friendship Four tournament. For the four American colleges, this event is an opportunity to take a road trip like no other—as they head to Belfast, Northern Ireland. The games will be played in the SSE Arena in Belfast’s Titanic Quarter, which is home to the Stena Line Belfast Giants, one of the teams that is part of the Elite Ice Hockey League. Tickets for the first ever Friendship Four tournament are on sale now online from Ticketmaster.

Over the next two weeks, you will get the chance to get to know the four teams who will be playing in the tournament, including interviews with players and coaches about what this event means to them and their schools.

Brown University – Providence, Rhode Island

The Brown Bears call Meehan Auditorium in Providence, Rhode Island home. Rhode Island is the smallest of states that make up the United States, located in the northeastern part of the country known as New England.

During the season the Brown Bears play in the ECAC Hockey Division 1 of the National Collegiate Athletic Association, along with fellow tournament school Colgate mentioned below. Brown University plays in the Ivy League Conference, which consists of eight private institutions that also includes, among others, Harvard University, Yale University and Cornell University.

Brendan Whittet, who entered his seventh season behind the bench when the 2015-16 season began in October, coaches the Bears. Born in East Providence, Whittet is himself a Brown University alumnus, graduating in 1994 Prior to joining his alma mater as head coach, he spent 11 years serving as assistant coach at Dartmouth University, another ECAC Division and Ivy League Conference school.

“Brendan has a proven record of accomplishment as an assistant coach and brings a strong passion for Brown to our program,” Director of Athletics, Michael Goldberger said when Whittet was announced as head coach. “He had tremendous success as a player at Brown and has the knowledge and skills to guide the team to the same level of achievement that he experienced as a player.”

The Bears, under Whittet’s guidance, saw their best season in two decades when they went to the ECAC Tournament Championship game in 2012-13, where the Union College Dutchmen ultimately defeated them. However, it was their first appearance in the conference championship game since 1993.

Having just begun their season with their home opener on October 31 against Holy Cross, the team is currently struggling to get their first win, with a current record of 0-3 on the season. Of particular interest is the fact that they will take on Colgate a week before they will meet them in the first game of the Friendship Four tournament. As such, it should prove to be a lively rematch in Belfast having so recently played.
Brown University claims the following alumni who are playing in the National Hockey League: Bobby Farnham (graduated in 2012), playing with Albany Devils; and Ryan Garbutt (graduated in 2009), playing with Chicago Blackhawks.

Among their current roster, the Bears have the following NHL-drafted players: Tyler Bird (sophomore), drafted 2014 by Columbus Blue Jackets in the 5th round, 137th overall; Sam Lafferty (sophomore), drafted 2014 by Pittsburg Penguins in the 4th round, 113th overll; and Max Willman (sophomore), drafted 2014 by Buffalo Sabres in the 5th round, 121st overall.

Colgate University – Hamilton, New York

The Colgate University Raiders are the other ECAC college participating in the Friendship Four. Located in village of Hamilton in central New York, the Raiders are lead by Don Vaughan who entered his 23rd year as head coach with the beginning of the current season. His longevity has earned him the most wins in the program’s history and his career record as the season began stood at 370-357-84.

The team, under Vaughan, has seen six 20-win seasons,, 21 appearances in the ECAC Hockey tournament. The Raiders had an impressive record last season, earning a 22-12-4 mark and going to the ECAC Hockey Championship game for the second straight year. It was during this season that Vaughan reached the impressive milestone of posting his 350th career victory, making him one of just 11 active Division I coaches to reach such an achievement.

Having begun their season during the weekend of October 3 and 4 when they traveled to Erie, Pennsylvania to take on Mercyhurst, the Raiders currently have a 4-5-0 record, which is undoubtedly not setting well with either the coach or the team.

Colgate spent the latter half of August on a 10-day European trip that in addition to seeing some great sights also saw the team play against teams in Switzerland and Italy. This could give them an edge when it comes to the Friendship Four as they have already experienced some European travel and what the time change and extreme travel can do to a body and a player’s game.

Colgate University’s hockey program was begun in 1916 though it has a gap from 1918 to 1920. The current roster does not include any players who were drafted in the NHL, but does have five upper classmen who attended NHL development camps this past summer: Kevin Lough (senior) – Detroit Red Wings; Tyson Spink (senior) – Detroit Red Wings; Darcy Murphy (senior) – New Jersey Devils; Andrew Black (junior) – Minnesota Wild; and Jake Kulevich – Columbus Blue Jackets and Pittsburg Penguins.

NHL development camps include drafted players who have not yet begun their professional career in hockey and they also often have a number of invited players from major junior teams as well as collegiate teams who are on the radar of the various NHL teams.

A family historian by profession, Rhonda R. McClure is the Managing Editor at The Pink Puck and has loved hockey since she was a child in New Hampshire. Any opportunity to combine her love of writing, hockey and research is something she looks forward to with much enthusiasm. She’s been accused of seeking out shinny games when there are no other hockey events taking place.

This is Part 1. Part 2 will follow on Saturday!