The Odyssey Trust, owners of the Stena Line Belfast Giants and The SSE Arena, Belfast, have announced the Friendship Four ice-hockey tournament will return for two further years.

Four US University teams will travel to Northern Ireland to play competitive games on Friday 24th November & Saturday 25th November 2017 and Friday 23rd November and Saturday 24th November 2018.

Just as in 2015 and 2016, each of the teams compete in the NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association) Division One, the top level of university ice-hockey in the United States. The participating teams along with ticketing information will be announced in January at the Frozen Fenway tournament in Boston.

Thanks to the Belfast-Boston Sister City Partnership, the Friendship Four in 2015 and 2016 was a huge success as the Odyssey Trust opened the doors of W5 as well as The SSE Arena, Belfast for tens of thousands of young people to take part in the festival of ice-hockey and STEM events.

In 2016, 22,000 fans attended the four ice-hockey games over Thanksgiving weekend with 70 television networks showing the games across USA, Canada, United Kingdom and the Republic of Ireland, making the tournament one of Northern Ireland’s most televised events ever.

Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 25th November 2016 - Photo by William Cherry Young fans watch Vermont Catamounts and UMass Minutemen during Friday afternoons Friendship Four game at the SSE Arena, Belfast. Four teams from the USA are competing in the NCAA mens ice-hockey tournament in the hope of winning the Belpot Trophy. Photo William Cherry/Presseye

Eric Porter, Chairman of the Odyssey Trust:

“The Sister City agreement has allowed the Odyssey Trust the honour of hosting this prestigious tournament for two years and also to see it’s return in 2017 and 2018.”

“We are incredibly thankful to Northern Irish Connections, the Belfast City Council and all our partners who helped make the 2016 event a huge success and the 2017 and 2018 tournaments will again provide a great boost to the local economy with a great deal of positive media coverage for Belfast from across the world.”

“We want to make the Friendship Four in 2017 and 2018 open to all and we expect that the city of Belfast will, yet again, open it’s arms to our US guests as well as be excited to see this standard of ice-hockey return to their home arena again for two more years.”

Steve Thornton, Head of Hockey Operations:

“The goal for the friendship Four was always about more than ice-hockey, to make ice-hockey the excuse and to date we have done that with the education visits and STEM events that surround the tournament.”

“The Friendship Four is not just about the Odyssey Trust and the Belfast Giants, these US Universities will return home talking about the people of Northern Ireland and just how friendly this place is. The Friendship Four is an experience they will remember for the rest of their lives.”

Press Eye - Belfast - Northern Ireland - 25th November 2016 - Photo by William Cherry Lord Mayor of Belfast Brian Kingston performs the ceremonial faceoff with Vermont Catamounts captain and UMass Minutemen captain during Friday afternoons Friendship Four game at the SSE Arena, Belfast. Four teams from the USA are competing in the NCAA mens ice-hockey tournament in the hope of winning the Belpot Trophy. Photo William Cherry/Presseye