Union, RPI heading to Belfast

Union and Yale will play in Northern Ireland in 2018; RPI will play there in the fall.
Union and Yale will play in Northern Ireland in 2018; RPI will play there in the fall.

Even if a four-leaf clover doesn’t bring you good luck, a four-team hockey tournament sure can.

That is, if you’re Union College and Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute.
When it comes to good luck, the Dutchmen and Engineers fell into a pot of it on Friday, when it was announced that they have both been selected to compete in the Northern Irish Connections Friendship Four Tournament in Belfast, Northern Ireland.
RPI will play in the 2017 tournament in November against the likes of ECAC Hockey rival Clarkson, as well as Providence and Maine, and Union has been picked for the tournament in 2018, when Yale of the ECAC and Boston University and Connecticut will be in the field.
The Friendship Four was started in 2015 as a means to promote the positive aspects of Northern Ireland while providing an intriguing hockey event to fans in a country that increasingly is embracing the sport.
The teams in the tournament will compete for the Belpot Trophy at SSE Arena, which the pro Belfast Giants of the Elite Ice Hockey League call home ice.
The tournament, the first NCAA hockey that has been played outside of North America, started in 2015 as a sister cities project between Boston and Belfast. Teams that have already participated in the Friendship Four have enjoyed a cultural experience learning the history of Northern Ireland, while giving back by visiting youth programs.
Fans have embraced it back, as a total of over 20,000 spectators attended the four games in 2016, which were broadcast in North America and Europe.
“The Friendship Four tournament has been a phenomenal event for ECAC Hockey and its member institutions,” ECAC Hockey commissioner Steve Hagwell said. “All aspects of the tournament during the first two years have been first class, and created life-long memories.
“I know the teams participating in the 2017 and 2018 tournaments are eager to visit the great city of Belfast and to experience everything the Friendship Four has to offer.”
“Union College hockey is honored to be selected to participate in the Friendship Four tournament,” Union head coach Rick Bennett said. “Our student-athletes, coaches, and support staff are looking forward to the experience”
RPI will play Clarkson on Friday, Nov. 24, the day after Thanksgiving, and Providence will play Maine. The Belpot Trophy game and third-place game will be played the following day.
In 2018, Union’s first-round opponent will be Yale, and Boston University will play UConn, on Nov. 23.
Hockey East owns the first two Belpot trophies.
Vermont won the 2016 Belpot Trophy by beating Massachusetts 4-2 in the first round and Quinnipiac 5-1 for the championship. St. Lawrence also competed.
In 2015, UMass Lowell beat Northeastern 3-2 in overtime in the first round and defeated Brown in a shootout after a 5-5 game through overtime for the title. Northeastern beat Colgate in the third-place game.
“Having been part of the first two Friendship Four events, I am thrilled with this news and what it means to the athletes and coaches who will be the primary beneficiaries,” Hockey East commissioner Joe Bertagna said. “Our hosts have done a tremendous job launching this event and the schools who have played to date have delivered the best of NCAA ice hockey to the people of Belfast.”
Reach Gazette Sportswriter Mike MacAdam at 395-3148 or [email protected]. Follow on Twitter @Mike_MacAdam.

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