by Katherine Torok ’20
The Providence College Men’s Hockey Team did more than just compete in a hockey tournament during their recent trip to Belfast, Northern Ireland; they strengthened the bond and cultural ties between the United States and Northern Ireland.
Over Thanksgiving break, the men’s hockey team traveled about 3,000 miles to participate in the third annual Friendship Four Tournament in Belfast. The other three teams included fellow Hockey East member University of Maine, and ECAC members, Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute (RPI) and Clarkson University. Although all of the teams crossed the pond to play hockey, they did more than just compete for the Belpot Trophy. They visited primary schools, promoted the sport of hockey, and celebrated the special Boston-Belfast Sister City agreement that was signed in 2014.
The Sister Cities Agreement was signed by Boston Mayor Martin J. Walsh and Belfast Lord Mayor Máirtín Ó Muilleoir on May 12, 2014. Mayor Walsh explained, “Together, Boston and Belfast will strive to foster educational exchanges, promote cultural understanding, and stimulate economic development through our new Sister City relationship.”
As Boston is the Irish-American capital of the United States, the Sister City Agreement was a perfect way to link not only Boston and Belfast together, but also the United States and Northern Ireland.
Overall, the agreement was designed to strengthen and foster economic growth, trading, tourism, youth, and culture between the two cities and nations.
And in 2015, Belfast and Boston agreed that college hockey was the perfect way to accomplish a handful of these objectives. In November of that year, Belfast welcomed four NCAA men’s hockey teams: Brown University, Colgate University, University of Massachusetts-Lowell, and Northeastern University.
In addition to promoting the sport of hockey, a STEM festival runs alongside the Friendship Four Tournament in order to encourage science, technology, engineering, and math in Northern Irish schools. This educational festival strengthened the link between the United States and Northern Ireland even further, as the United States is a prominent leader in the growing STEM movement. Overall, all three tournaments have been giant successes.
The 2016 tournament included St. Lawrence University, Quinnipiac University, University of Vermont, and University of Massachusetts-Amherst. In that year, the tournament became one of Northern Ireland’s most televised sporting events in history.
Although the Friendship Four has clearly been a success in the past, both on and off the ice, have the Friars been pulling their weight when it comes to promoting the Sister City agreement? Or has this been just a fun team trip to Northern Ireland?
The truth is: The Friars have not taken this trip for granted at all.
Besides taking time off the ice to do sight-seeing in both Dublin and Belfast, the men’s hockey program sat down to have dinner with fellow Friars abroad and has visited Dundonald Primary School in Belfast.
During a post-game interview, team captain Brian Pinho ’18 explained that they went to the primary school “to play street hockey and answer some questions, and they [the students] all raised their hands when someone asked if they’ve been to a Giants game [Belfast’s home hockey team]. It was pretty cool that they all liked hockey here.”
While hockey is the main reason why the men’s hockey team traded in turkey and pumpkin pie for Irish soda bread and Ulster fry this past Thanksgiving break, it is clear that they have not taken this experience for granted.
It is not every day that a hockey team from a small liberal arts college in Providence, Rhode Island, has the opportunity not only to play for an international audience, but also to strengthen the special bond between Boston and Belfast.
Despite the outcome on the ice, the men’s hockey program has truly made PC proud. Although some may believe that the trip was unfair to other athletes and a waste of money, the men’s hockey team proved that this trip and experience was more than just a Thanksgiving vacation and tournament.
The team helped to bring two cities and countries closer together, all while showing the world what it means to be a Providence College Friar.