A number of major NCAA ice-hockey officials from the United States visited Belfast last weekend ahead of November’s Northern Irish Connections Friendship Four.

The Inspection Team for the NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association) games was officially welcomed to the city on Friday by the Lord Mayor, Alderman Brian Kingston, at a special reception in City Hall.

With Belfast City Council as the principal sponsor, the NI Connections Friendship Four tournament is a landmark event for the city. It is the only NCAA tournament in the world played outside the USA.

As well as a global television audience, it is expected to draw in large numbers of spectators from across the UK, Republic of Ireland and America.

The tournament will feature four teams playing at The SSE Arena over Thanksgiving weekend. Quinnipiac University, The University of Vermont, St Lawrence University and the University of Massachusetts will compete against one another on the 25th and 26th November for the coveted Belpot Trophy.

The Inspection Team that visited Belfast included ECAC Hockey Commissioner Steve Hagwell, Hockey East Commissioner Joe Bertagna and US ice hockey star Ralph Cox.

Lord Mayor, Alderman Brian Kingston, said: “I’m delighted to welcome the Inspection Team to Belfast and hope their visit will be a very productive one – not only through their remit of inspecting the SSE Arena ahead of the Friendship Four games but getting to visit some of our city’s other top attractions whilst here.

“The buzz generated already has been amazing and it can only get better. Hosting this prestigious tournament in Belfast is a direct outcome of our Sister Cities relationships with the United States and will undoubtedly bolster further exchanges particularly in terms of our business, tourism and educational links. It will be a great boost to our economy,” he added.

Robert Fitzpatrick, CEO of the Odyssey Trust, said: “The Odyssey Trust is very proud that having chosen our city to host the first ever competitive games outside of America last year, the NCAA continues to support us through this venture. This ice hockey festival is an opportunity to give back to the communities that have been loyal to us over the years, and we truly want to make this an event that is open to all.”

Around 10,000 tickets will be distributed to schools and youth groups from all parts of Belfast, giving them the opportunity to experience world class sport in action.
For more information go to: www.belfastcity.gov.uk/friendshipfour