The Friendship Four is special. It just is. There are just no other words to describe it.
Okay, there are.
Exciting, exhilarating, dramatic, positive, feel-good, unifying… and for some, the highlight of the hockey calendar in Belfast.
Mayor of Boston Marty Walsh was in town to drop the puck on game one (and I am frankly still, currently, at this moment freaking out…) between 2019 Hockey East Champions the Northeastern Huskies and Friendship Four newcomers, the UNH Wildcats.
The Huskies and Wildcats, along with tonight’s opponents Princeton and Colgate, had spent the week sightseeing and visiting schools in and around Belfast.
Videos of hockey players being thrown into activities like Irish dancing in the midst of screaming and laughing school kids had swirled around Twitter all week long. Players, Coaches and officials alike come here every year and talk of the impact these experiences have, both on teams as a whole and individuals.
But it goes both ways. The arena was full of the same excited kids from those photos and videos- watching the young athletes they met and befriended earlier in the week doing what they do best.
The positive experiences and meaningful bonds formed through an event like this last for a long time, for all involved. And that’s what makes it special.
FIRST PERIOD: A Long Way From Home
A cagey first between the sides saw limited offense in both directions, with UNH tipping it at 8 shots versus Northeastern’s 7.
In general terms, what NCAA athletes lack in years of experience, they more than make up for in sheer energy and excitement, and that was clear to see. But also evident in the first period was the adjustment to playing on a big ice pad- on the other side of the world.
No less than six power play opportunities went begging (three each), mostly a mixture of slashing and tripping- and the sides headed for the rooms with a pair of goose eggs, hoping to settle into the game in the second.
SECOND PERIOD: The Ryan Shea Show
A three on one breakaway for Northeastern in the early minutes of the second period was the most clear cut chance of the game by far, but Vancouver Canucks prospect Tyler Madden’s mishandle in the right circle saw off any danger.
The Wildcats swarmed the zone on a power play 6 minutes in, but could not find cohesion, or anything resembling an offensive cycle.
Moments later, Northeastern made them pay with sharp wrist shot from mid slot by Captain and Chicago Blackhawks prospect Ryan Shea. (1-0)
The Huskies had a golden opportunity to extend their lead with a five on three power play moments later. They came close courtesy of Shea once again- whose decent one timer from the high slot was swallowed by the glove of UNH goalie and San Jose Sharks prospect Mike Robinson.
Shea continued to be the story of the period, however, lighting the lamp again on the power play late in the period with a beauty of a one timer from the high slot, beating Robinson high blocker. (2-0)
Despite outshooting their opponents 11 to 8 in the period, UNH headed to the tunnel facing a steep uphill climb in the third.
THIRD PERIOD: Huskies Seal The Deal
With 13 minutes left in the game, and with both goals so far coming from Defenseman Shea, finally a Forward got in on the scoring action.
Unfortunately for UNH, it was the Huskies once again.
Massachusetts native TJ Walsh found himself in a net front scramble, beating a pressurised Mike Robinson from close range to all but seal the deal for Northeastern. (3-0)
And at 50.07, Assistant Captain and Defenseman John Picking made it four- shooting home from the edge of the crease after finding himself on the end of a sublime pass from the right circle. (4-0)
A plexi malfunction with sixteen seconds left in the game brought a slightly premature end to proceedings- when a full pane came loose after a body check and crashed inwards onto the ice. Never seen that one before!
And with that, the Northeastern Huskies put a notch in the win column of the domestic season back home, and also book themselves a place in tomorrow’s Friendship Four Championship game- with an opportunity to ‘ring the bell’ against the winner of tonight’s clash between Princeton and Colgate.
AVFTB POST GAME INTERVIEWS
Former Belfast Giant and Northeastern Assistant Coach Jerry Keefe on 4-0 win and returning to Belfast.
Huskies Captain and Chicago Prospect Ryan Shea on two goal game and memorable week in Belfast.