If you’ve just joined us… it’s worth repeating:
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.
Now, about that second game.
The Colgate Raiders made a welcome return to Belfast for the 2019 edition of the Friendship Four. Former Giant Darcy Murphy’s alma mater no doubt enjoying strong support among the Belfast fanbase.
Joining them for the 7:00pm face off was the debuting Princeton Tigers- the Ivy League school’s bright orange jerseys standing out a mile set against the white of SSE Arena ice.
FIRST PERIOD: Smash & Grab
The Tigers had the first power play chance of the game six minutes in, setting up well in Colgate’s zone and challenging net minder Andrew Farrier low glove side.
In all honesty, the first period of action felt a lot like today’s earlier game between Northeastern and UNH- with both sides playing a little loosey goosey as they worked to settle into the game, the environment and the big ice.
Colgate came close on the edge of the last five minutes, a snap wrist shot from the top of the right circle glancing off Tigers goal tender Aidan Porter’s left post.
Colgate executed a total smash-and-grab lead on the power play with seconds left, when Minnesota native John Snodgrass caught Porter out of position, tucking the puck home from the edge of the same post they struck moments earlier. (1-0)
SECOND PERIOD: Benny Sharf, Doo Doo Do-Do Do-Do
It didn’t take long for Princeton to respond. Nineteen year old Ontario native Spencer Kersten danced his way inside from the right side of the zone, netting into the roof blocker side from an impressive angle. (1-1)
And suddenly, it was game on.
Colgate forward Ben Sharf utterly lit up an orange jersey on the edge of the Tigers zone four minutes in, sparking an explosive phase of play. Almost immediately, Sharf stole the puck in the neutral zone and tore off down the slot on a breakaway which was denied by Porter.
But he wasn’t finished there. A matter of seconds later Sharf was on the puck again- this time making no mistake about the finish and celebrating wildly. Hell of a shift. I’m tired just writing about it. Grab a water bud. (2-1)
From here the tempo settled. The sides traded penalties and Princeton got some good looks on goal around the fifteen minute mark, but neither team could find the net- setting up a final period with all to play for.
THIRD PERIOD: Raiders Stamp Their Ticket
Colgate entered the third period with 22 shots on goal to Princeton’s 16, meaning the Tigers would really have to turn it on to tilt the ice and stand a chance of making tomorrow’s Championship finale.
Colgate’s Nick Austin took a high sticking penalty at the 25 minute mark, but a golden opportunity to lock the game up went begging as the Tigers’ power play unit failed to hit their stride.
Princeton’s sense of urgency noticeably increased as the minutes bled away. Their key to finding a foothold was to channel that energy and emotion into clinical hockey. Stay out of the box and get to the net.
But friends, we’re watching College hockey here.
Nick Seitz headed to the box for interference following a particularly stiff hit mid period, handing Colgate the advantage for another two critical minutes.
Facing a strong Colgate cycle, the heroics of Tigers net minder Aidan Porter kept them alive… at least for the power play.
At even strength Ben Sharf struck again, pinging a solid shot from the right of the zone and into the net. A review followed as the refs took a look at Colgate activity in the crease, but the goal eventually stood and suddenly Princeton’s odds looked bleak. (3-1)
Princeton had seen enough of Porter, pulling him in favour of backup net minder Jeremie Forget (pronounced fore-jay) who himself headed for the bench in the game’s final minute and change.
Both teams looked gassed as time ticked away, and Princeton’s time for mounting a comeback passed.
Colgate celebrated a Friendship Four final spot, and those in the building relished the thought of their showdown with Northeastern in just 24 hours time.
AVFTB POST GAME INTERVIEWS
Colgate Coach Don Vaughn following his side’s win over Princeton, sending them to the Friendship Four final.
Colgate MOTM Ben Sharf on his side’s win.