NCAA arrives in the SSE Arena

The NCAA takes over the SSE Arena Belfast

 Taking over the SSE Arena in Belfast the NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association) is making a historic move to play regular season games outside of the USA. University squads playing under NCAA rules host teams, like the following to play in regional conferences around the USA.

016A2832-1-450x235Shane Johnson with Steve Thornton plus two other NCAA officials hold NCAA Game Shirts

In the first ever tournament of its kind in Europe the likes of the Northeastern University Huskies (who call Boston, Massachusetts their home) will be playing. Hockey East is their ice hockey Division.

 This division includes some of the best of collegiate hockey including Boston University and Boston College along with fellow Friendship Four tournament attendee, the University of Massachusetts-Lowell.

 Hockey has been played at Northeastern since 1929 and the team plays in the Matthews Arena, which boasts the title of oldest multi-purpose athletic building. It has the oldest artificial ice sheet. The building opened in 1910—known then as Boston Arena—and would serve as home arena to the Boston Bruins from 1924 to 1928 when they moved to the original Boston Garden.

However, the first ice hockey played at Matthews took place in March 1911 when the Montreal Wanderers and the Ottawa Senators played a two-game $2,500 competition. Matthews has been home to the hockey programs of Boston College, Boston University, Harvard University, MIT, Tufts University and Wentworth Institute of Technology – before these teams got their own arenas, in addition to Northeastern’s own team. However, Northeastern did not actually own the arena until 1979.

friendship_four_banner-450x235 Jim Madigan, who is entering his fifth season as head coach for the team coaches the Huskies. He graduated from Northeastern University in 1986 where he achieved a number of awards during his time as a hockey player before going on to serve as assistant coach, from graduation until 1993. He then went on to work as a scout for first the New York Islanders and then the Pittsburgh Penguins. He was with the Penguins’ management when they won the Stanley Cup in 2009.

In addition to the more traditional Hockey East conference and NCAA tournaments, Northeastern University is one of the four schools participating annually in the Beanpot Tournament, which also includes Boston College, Boston University, and Harvard University.

The tournament takes place during the first two Mondays in February and is always a lively four-gamer as each team wants bragging rights in the city of Boston. During the 1980 Olympics the United States hockey team players from Boston could be heard discussing the Beanpot results while they were participating in the Olympics. It was the first time Northeastern University won the title and was a shock among the Boston College and Boston University players on Team USA – better known as the Miracle Team for their ability to defeat Russia.

The Huskies are struggling this season with an uncharacteristic 1-7-1 record of the games played so far. Their bout against UMass-Lowell during the Friendship Four tournament’s first day of games will be important as it is a conference game and will affect their standings in Hockey East.

Boston-Ice-hockey-1-450x235

Northeastern claims the following alumni as active NHL players: Anthony Bitteto – Nashville Predators; Josh Manson – Anaheim Ducks; Jamie Oleksiak – Dallas Stars; and Joe Vitale – Arizona Coyotes.

The team has a number of active players who have been drafted by NHL teams: Matt Benning (junior) – 2012 by Boston Bruins in the 6th round, 175th overall; Brendan Collier (junior) – 2012 by Carolina Hurricanes in the 7th round, 189th overall; Adam Gaudette (freshman) – 2015 by Vancouver Canucks in the 5th round, 149th overall; Sam Kurker (junior) – 2012 by St. Louis Blues in the 2nd round, 56th overall; Kevin Roy (senior) – 2012 by Anaheim Ducks in the 4th round, 97th overall; and Dylan Sikura (sophomore) – 2014 by Chicago Blackhawks in the 6th round, 178th overall.

 University of Massachusetts–Lowell – Lowell, Massachusetts

The UMass-Lowell River Hawks trace their hockey origins to the 1967-68 season when they were known as Lowell Tech. When they won the Hockey East Tournament in 2013 it was the first championship for the team in 31 years. The players would turn around and claim the win again in 2014.

Under head coach Norm Bazin, entering his fifth year with the River Hawks the team has gone to the NCAA National Tournament three times and made one visit to the Frozen Four in addition to the two Hockey East championships. Bazin played his collegiate hockey as a River Hawk from 1990-94. He served as an assistant coach for the team from 1996-2000 and returned as the school’s sixth head coach in April 2011.

Of the four teams participating in the Friendship Four, the River Hawks currently have the best record on the current season. UMass-Lowell sports a 6-1-2 record so far and is riding a three-game winning streak.

The school lays claim to only one alumnus as an active professional player in the NHL with Ron Hainsey, who is playing currently in his third season with the Carolina Hurricanes, though he has also played for the Montreal Canadiens, Columbus Blue Jackets, and Atlanta Thrashers who then became the Winnipeg Jets.

And despite their impressive growth as a powerhouse team to be respected, they currently only have one player on the roster that was drafted by the NHL. The Edmonton Oilers drafted Evan Campbell, a junior, in 2013 in the 5th round, 128th overall.

All four of these teams will be great to watch during the Friendship Four. There are memories among upperclassmen of past games played between at least one other of the teams participating. And while NCAA does not allow fighting, the speed and determination that the college level brings has an energy all its own. This unique opportunity will add to the motivation of each of these teams, as each will want to have the bragging rights of winning the first ever Belpot.

Tickets for the first ever Friendship Four tournament are on sale now online from Ticketmaster.

 

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.

 

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