The Friendship Four ice-hockey festival that sees United States university ice hockey teams play in Belfast has been officially launched with a visit to the city of officials from the sport’s governing body.

The Inspection Team for the NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association) games was officially welcomed to the city on Saturday (October 21) by the Lord Mayor, Alderman Brian Kingston, at a special reception in City Hall.

The tournament will feature four teams playing at the city’s 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 25 and 26 November for the coveted Belpot Trophy.

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

Lord Mayor, Alderman Brian Kingston, said he was excited ahead of the tournament.

“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.”

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.”

The games were played over Thanksgiving Weekend last November welcoming 600 visitors from Boston and North America to the city through participation or attendance at the event with visitor spend estimated at £273,000. The games were also televised live to millions of ice-hockey fans in North America and Canada – promoting Belfast internationally.

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.

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This article first appeared in the Irish Echo. For more, visit their website here