Diaspora organisation Northern Irish Connections has been unveiled as the headline sponsor of the second Friendship Four ice hockey tournament, which will take place at The SSE Arena, Belfast in November 2016.

The tournament, created by the Odyssey Trust as well as the Giants, places four Division One American NCAA university teams in competition for the Belpot Trophy as well as league points. The 2016 event, the second ever, will see the University of Massachusetts, Quinnipiac University, the University of Vermont and St. Lawrence University take to the ice.

Northern Irish Connections is a not-for-profit organisation building a global network to boost the local economy by showcasing everything that is good about Northern Ireland. It aims to use the Friendship Four partnership to connect with the six million people living in the United States who are originally from or who have links to Northern Ireland.

Andrew Cowan, Chief Executive of Northern Irish Connections commented:

“The Friendship Four captivated American fans last year with the university teams playing competitively outside of the country for the first time. We saw this as an ideal vehicle to support our diaspora network in what is a key market for Northern Ireland and a great focal point around which to host and attract back some of our most important influencers.

“Connecting our diaspora with home has the potential to create economic growth by expanding networks, bringing in foreign investment and developing export markets. The tournament opens up tourism opportunities by putting the spotlight on Belfast through international television coverage and provides a strong educational focus through the festival of STEM which runs alongside the tournament. This platform will help us to showcase Northern Ireland and inspire our diaspora.”

Steve Thornton, Head of Hockey Operations at the Belfast Giants commented:

“We are looking forward to building on the success of last year’s Friendship Four tournament with Northern Irish Connections as the title sponsor. There are plenty of synergies between ourselves and Northern Irish Connections with both organisations wanting to highlight the best that Northern Ireland has to offer. Ice hockey has become an integral part of the culture in our country and now will support our collective aim to promote Northern Ireland on an international scale.”

Northern Irish Connections is supported by its membership which includes Belfast Harbour, Invest Northern Ireland, Belfast City Council, Tourism Ireland and Tourism Northern Ireland.

Photo: Ringing the bell for the return of the Friendship Four are Odyssey Trust Chief Executive Robert Fitzpatrick, Andrew Cowan, Chief Executive of headline sponsor NI Connections, who is holding the Belpot trophy and Steve Thornton, Head of Hockey Operations at the Belfast Giants.