by Rhonda R. McClure

Team bonding is an intangible that can take a struggling team and launch it up the statistics when it happens. And while the season is well underway for these Hockey East conference schools, a trip to Belfast can only add to the bonding that has already taken place. This could be just the thing that the Northeastern University Huskies need to build a strong team that will return to Boston, Massachusetts and take the rest of the season by storm. Tickets for the first ever Friendship Four tournament are on sale now online from Ticketmaster.

In addition to the bonding though it is a unique experience that the players of both teams will take with them for the rest of their lives,

“You know when you get to do stuff like that, just from playing hockey, it’s pretty special. We all get to see other countries, other cultures. But I think even aside from just playing that tournament, I think it’s a privilege to get to go there you know, with the group that we have,” said the Huskies captain, Kevin Roy.

“I think kind of getting to be a part of something like this, it’s obviously a first for our university and that’s exciting for us. And just getting to go to Ireland and experience a different life and culture that’s out there, that will be neat,” agreed University of Massachusetts-Lowell’s A.J. White, who is captain of the River Hawks.

“It’s a unique experience. The guys are going to get a cultural experience out of playing two very important hockey games. As a coach, you are focused more on the hockey and those things because there’s league points to be won and that makes it a little bit more intensified than it should be going overseas and getting the cultural experience,” added UMass-Lowell head coach, Norm Bazin.

And while any road trip is a bonding experience having an opportunity to travel overseas for a week, especially when a holiday is involved just adds to the overall experience for a team.

“It’s a wonderful thought because I hadn’t even ventured there yet, but any time you have time on the road with your team, it’s team building. However, when you go through a holiday experience, where you’re going to spend Thanksgiving with your team, I think it helps intensify the experience,” said Basin thoughtfully. “A lot of these kids have their parents joining us and that’s a terrific thing. When they can bring their parents along and have their parents go through this for the first time as well as the kids, I think it adds to the experience.”

“It’s absolutely a great bonding experience because you’re just with the guys; there’s not really any distractions. Everything you do, you’re traveling with them,” added White. “It’s a lot of time spent together, so I think it’s really good to have happen and get to know people better and on a more personal note.”

Hockey teams are definitely a kind of family, and traveling with a large group such as these teams are doing certainly just exaggerates the overall involvement, but in the end they are hockey players and that means there is a definite level of focus on the games that make up part of the trip.

“Yeah, definitely, I mean we go there to enjoy it, but we go there to win. That’s’ the first thing we think about,” Roy stressed. “We go there to win and not to go visit museums or whatever. That’s just an extra, but I mean, we’re there to win—league or not league.”

“The first game’s league and both teams are traveling the same distance so nobody is at an advantage. And the second game is non-league for points, but overall I think it’s going to be a very unique experience and we’re looking forward to it,” pointed out Bazin.

Considering that the semifinal games are league specific and count in their standings, there is always the possibility of a more intense game. Hockey players, in general, don’t like to lose, but when there are points at stake that could affect their playoff chances, it does increase the level of intensity. But these are NCAA teams, and the rules to how they play are designed to help them adhere to good sportsmanship, and careless penalties could cost them if the other team has the man advantage too often.

“I think it’s going to keep everything civil and make sure that people are staying disciplined,” Bazin said about the league points. “I’m looking forward to it. It’s exciting and we’re looking forward to it.”

And for the River Hawks of the University of Massachusetts-Lowell, their captain shared some of the possible non-hockey related activities. While Colgate University elected to have their Thanksgiving before traveling, the River Hawks have kept to tradition.

“We’re going to try and do some volunteer stuff and we have a little university there and we’re going to check that out,” White shared. “And also, since it’s Thanksgiving weekend, have a nice big meal with everyone there and I’m looking forward to that.”

White did mention that he would not overdo on the turkey so that he’d be ready to hit the ice in full battle mode on Friday when the semifinal game takes place.

While the River Hawks captain admitted that he had been unaware that Belfast had a hockey team before the tournament was announced, his head coach was in the know. As Bazin pointed out, River Hawks alum Bobby Robins played for the Belfast Giants, and as with so many other places Robins played, he left his mark there. Perhaps Bazin will show the team Robins’ photo at the arena and his team will understand what an amazing, and small world, the hockey fraternity is.

Regardless of which of the four teams was interviewed though, it was clear that all the players were thrilled with this unique opportunity. Those attending the games, who live in and around Belfast will get a good look at collegiate hockey, including a number of NHL prospects. And the players, coaches, and families who have traveled to Belfast will take away some amazing memories.

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.