by Rhonda R. McClure

Hockey is most definitely a team sport, and the bonding of that team often has a huge affect on how they progress throughout their season. In the National Hockey League, teams often talk about their first major road trip and how important it is to the bonding process. However, with a few exceptions, most collegiate teams travel only on the weekends before returning to their school so that their studies do not suffer.

The opportunity for the schools participating in the Friendship Four to travel abroad was certainly something that offered many opportunities, including additional bonding as a team. And for Brown University, Colgate University, Northeastern University and University of Massachusetts-Lowell, they not only have a wonderful trip, but one of them will get bragging rights as the first team to lift up the Belpot Trophy as champion.  Tickets for the first ever Friendship Four tournament are on sale now online from Ticketmaster.

“I could not be more excited for the opportunity. The chance to be able to travel to Europe and play hockey with your best friends from college is a once in a lifetime opportunity,” said Brown University’s captain Mark Naclerio. “Our program is fortunate to be invited and cannot wait to represent Brown positively and hopefully leave there with two wins.”

“We’re obviously very excited to have the opportunity to play overseas, especially in Belfast,” shared Colgate University’s captain Mike Borkowski. “Anytime you have the opportunity to play in places that you have been before causes a large amount of excitement. It’s going to be a lot of fun.”

And while it will certainly be a fun experience, the game these two teams will play against each other on Friday, November 27, is more than just a fun game. This clash of ECAC conference competitors offers two important points for the winning team in their standings back in the United States. In addition, these teams met each other at Meehan Auditorium in Providence, Rhode Island—the home arena for the Brown University Bears this past Friday—and it ended in a tie. Hockey players have memories for every slight that happens on the ice, and there was some shoving and number taking as that game progressed.

“I don’t know if [their recent game] helps or hurts. The two teams should know each other very well. There will be no secrets, that is for sure,” offered Colgate’s head coach Don Vaughan. “As the score indicates we played a very even game with Brown on Friday night. That said this is a huge league game for both teams so we will keep our preparations as close to normal as possible considering we are an ocean away from Starr Rink.”

The players are also mindful of how important the semi-final round game is to their overall success on the season. So will the excitement of the trip affect their ability to focus?

“As difficult as it may be, we need [to] prepare for the games just as we would any other game,” said Borkowski. “Certainly the excitement of playing in a new venue with great atmosphere will help with adjusting to the time difference and other factors that come with traveling overseas. Ultimately we need to stick with routine and stick with what makes us successful.”

“I think traveling abroad to play hockey will create a lot of excitement and energy for our team. We are excited to be able to experience the trip, but are focused on winning our first game against Colgate,” Naclerio echoed. “We understand that there are league points at stake and we could not be more excited for the challenge.”

For Naclerio, this is his first opportunity to travel to Europe to play hockey.

“I have gone to parts of Canada for hockey tournaments, but have never traveled as far as Europe,” he offered. “It is going to be a new and exciting experience that I am really looking forward to.”

Colgate, on the other hand, has already experienced a European trip earlier this year before the regular season began.

“Our team actually went to Italy this past summer together to experience hockey in that part of the world,” Borkowski shared. “But before the trip this summer many of the guys, as well as myself, had never been overseas before in our lifeteime.”

Having already experienced the jetlag and time change and other things that mess with a routine that hockey players adhere to with almost a religious zeal could offer the Colgate Raiders an advantage. On the flip side of this, such a dramatic change can shake up a team that has been struggling and they come out firing on all cylinders.

While those in Belfast know about their Elite Ice Hockey League and can count off statistics about their team and are certainly aware of the NHL and its teams, the NCAA conferences over in the states are something new and different. So what do these college players know about hockey in Belfast?

“Prior to this tournament, I was unaware that Belfast had a hockey team,” Brown’s Naclerio admitted. “Guys on our team, in the past, have gone and played professionally in Europe in places such as Italy and France, but never in Ireland. It will be a great experience for our program.”

“I did know that they had a team in Belfast,” said Colgate’s Borkowksi. “I watched a documentary on one of the Giants former players, ex-NHLer Kevin Westgarth. So ultimately that gave me a little background on what the game of hockey has done to the community.”

Few realize how much collegiate hockey has grown and is feeding the NHL with up and coming players, and this is something that the NCAA and College Hockey, Inc. continue to try and educate many in the states and in Canada. Having TSN televise these games in Canada speaks to the success they are having in this area.

“I think it speaks volumes about the development of the US College game. There are great hockey people at TSN and I am sure they recognize that 30% of NHL players are now coming from US College teams,” stated Colgate’s head coach Vaughan. “I’m sure they want to expose their viewers to future NHLers. I also believe we need to recognize Mike Snee and his staff at College Hockey, Inc., for the work they have done getting more exposure of our game through TSN. It really is great.”

Just as the NCAA and College Hockey, Inc., continues to breakdown stereotypes of what collegiate hockey is all about, so to do tournaments such as this offer an eye-opening experience to players and fans about hockey outside of North America. All in all, this is an absolutely amazing partnership to showcase hockey on an international stage. Making the games essential to the teams’ standings offers those who come to see the games a genuine experience of what collegiate hockey is in its purest form.

In the next installment the players and coaches of Northeastern University and University of Massachusetts-Lowell will offer their take on this unique opportunity.

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.