In college hockey’s never-ending quest to expand its fan base, four college hockey teams traveled abroad to compete in the Friendship Four, the first competitive NCAA hockey games to be played overseas.
The tournament pits Brown (1-4-2) vs. Colgate (4-8-1) in Game 1 on Friday and UMass Lowell (9-1-3) vs. Northeastern (1-10-2) in Game 2 with the losers and winners matching up Saturday. They’ll be playing for the inaugural Belpot Trophy in Northern Ireland’s capital Belfast.
All games will be held at the Odyssey Arena, home of the Elite Ice Hockey League’s Belfast Giants.
The games not only expose college hockey to new fans, but it also helps each of the teams recruit players and students. A tournament website has a countdown to the opening game as well as travel information. The site allows visitors to click on each school’s icon and instead of just having hockey information, it talks about the schools’ academic programs and locale, too.
Finding ways to spark fan interest with neutral site games in different markets is a growing trend. Cornell and Boston University, for example, have played bi-annual Thanksgiving week games at Madison Square Garden since 2007. It is so successful it is billed as the “Red Hot Hockey” event. In the years it doesn’t play BU, Cornell brings in other foes.
Saturday’s game at MSG promises to be a good one. Boston University is ranked 12th and fought top-ranked Providence to two draws earlier this season, but Cornell is ranked 15th and has one of the stingiest defenses in the country.
Other than No. 1 Providence hosting No. 9 Yale on Saturday, the Cornell-BU game is the tops on tap in the country.
Madison Square Garden will play host to one of the ECAC’s biggest regular-season contests this season when No. 3 Quinnipiac squares off against No. 8/9 Harvard on Jan. 9.
Next season, North Dakota will face Boston College on Dec. 3, 2017 at Madison Square Garden in what is billed as the two winningest programs in college hockey over the past decade squaring off against each other. In 2018, UND will take its heated rivalry against Minnesota to Las Vegas.
Doing something special for the players and fans raises interest in programs. On Feb. 20, Denver and Colorado will play their first outdoor game in the history of their storied rivalry.
IT WILL TAKE SOME GETTING USED TO
Social media isn't going to help make UND’s transformation from Fighting Sioux to Fighting Hawks easy.
When North Dakota announced its new nickname last week after three rounds of low-turnout votes, the news wasn’t met with much fanfare or celebration. When the TV station broadcasting the UND-SCSU game erroneously scrolled RedHawks — not Fighting Hawks — the gaffe was screen captured and plastered across Facebook and other social media platforms immediately.
At the game, chants of “Sioux” were still heard, as well as some “ca-caws.”
For SCSU, it seemed to be the only mistake it made in the weekend’s marquee matchup. Despite losing 4-3 in the series opener, SCSU became the first team this season to outshoot UND (38-26). Saturday, the Huskies scored on three of their first six shots on net through two periods to chase UND goalie Matt Hrynkiw from the nets for the first time this season. The loss was UND’s first in conference play, first on the road and the first time Hrynkiw has been chased from a game in favor of Cam Johnson despite originally being the third-string, non-scholarship goalie forced into play because of injuries.
SCSU won despite just 21 shots on net, but their six-goal outburst came against the fourth-ranked team in the country, one week after the Huskies hung 11 on Western Michigan in Kalamazoo.
Dangerous team, the Huskies, no matter if they face the RedHawks, Fighting Hawks or any other team in the nation.
BIG BOOST FOR BIG TEN
Big Blue and the Badgers did the Big Ten a solid this weekend when the schools combined to go 1-2-1 against Hockey East and NCHC foes. When they next take the ice it will be against each other on Dec. 4-5.
Michigan, 12th-ranked, nearly pulled off the road sweep at Boston University but gave up the final three goals in the series opening 3-2 loss. The Wolverines rebounded with a 4-2 win Saturday, never trailing and having four players each score a goal.
Wisconsin, meanwhile, is showing last season’s four-win debacle was an aberration for the historic program. Two weeks ago, the Badgers upset then-No. 1 North Dakota on the road. Coming off an open week everyone wondered if it was a fluke or sign of things to come.
Friday, they battled eighth-ranked Denver to 3-3 after surrendering a 3-1 lead in the second period, then lost 6-2 Saturday.
The showings were the Big Ten’s strongest against some of the toughest non-conference foes this season.
FIT TO BE TIED
Thirteen games went into overtime on Friday night with 11 ending in ties. All but one, Denver’s 3-3 tie at Wisconsin, were conference games. Eight more overtimes were recorded Saturday, four ending in ties.
There aren’t many gimmes in college hockey these days, especially in conference play. Meanwhile:
- Cornell, 6-1-1, cracked the USA Today/USA Magazine top 15 poll for the first time this season at No. 15.
- Penn State, 7-2-3, is ranked in the Top 20 (20th) of the USCHO poll for the first time this season.
- The Quinnipiac men's team is No. 3 in all the polls and the women’s team is pretty good, too. Ranked eighth, they recorded back-to-back shutouts against No. 4 Clarkson and St. Lawrence to move into first place in the ECAC.
- The No. 2-ranked Boston College women won their Hockey East showdown 4-2 over fifth-ranked Northeastern.
- Jake Walman of Providence and Austin Ortega of Omaha lead the nation with nine goals.
- New Hampshire's Tyler Kelleher, who leads the nation in points scored with 21, is tied with North Dakota’s Nick Schmaltz for the most assists in the nation with 15.
Above: Four college hockey teams will compete in Belfast this weekend. (Courtesy of Visit Belfast via Twitter)