In History: The First NCAA Women’s Ice Hockey Games Played Outside North America (N. Ireland)

With the 2019-2020 hockey season coming right around the boards, I’m going to recap on some big moments in women’s hockey recent history that I was personally in attendance for.

The next up in this series of articles, is the first NCAA Women’s Ice Hockey games played outside of North America. And straight to the point, they were played in Belfast, Northern Ireland at the SSE Arena (home of the Belfast Giants of the EIHL).

And what an experience that was. As someone not old enough to remember the troubles in Belfast in the last half century, I can say now that Belfast and the surrounding areas are a beautiful place with great food and nice people. Below are some photos of Belfast at night, including Victoria Square, the Titanic Museum, and a walkway along the water.

The Clarkson (who I traveled with) and Northeastern Women’s Hockey teams flew across the pond to play in the Friendship Series, an expansion of the Friendship Four Men’s College Hockey tournament that had started in 2015 and has been happening every year since. (The Clarkson Men’s team actually won it in 2017). There is a great article going into how and why these tournaments started and what it means for both the people of Northern Ireland and the hockey community as a whole, here.

The Friendship Series between Clarkson and Northeastern saw two games played, one on Saturday and one on Sunday (January 5th and 6th, 2019), but we had flown over the previous Monday, so we could sight see and acclimate to the surprisingly not all that different climate. Below are some (mostly group) photos of a couple of the places we traveled to, including beautiful coastlines, more beautiful coastlines, a rope bridge on a beautiful coastline, and even a old castle where a few scenes from Game of Thrones was filmed, also situated on a beautiful coastline.

Later in the week, saw practice on the Olympic-sized rink as the teams prepared for their matchup that weekend.

Now onto the games: The arena staff made everyone sit on only one side of the rink. On one hand, as a photographer, this was nice when photographing in that direction with the fans in the background since it made the rink look incredibly full in the photos. But on the other hand, when I went to photograph from the other direction, the rink looked completely empty. But I can understand logistically why they would do that, especially considering the Belfast Giants had games later those nights. Below are some photos of the crowd as well as the “world famous” Clarkson Pep Band.

Another notable part of these games, was that they featured an all women officiators team, including the legend herself Katie Guay, Mackenzie Welter, Amanda Tassoni, and Kelly Cooke. But back to the games they were officiating, the first game saw an evenly matched split, which ended in a 3-3 tie between Clarkson and Northeastern, with 31 shots on goal to 34 respectively. Clarkson spread a goal a piece across the three periods (and none in overtime), while Northeastern put all their goals in the 2nd period basket.

The second game saw an equally evenly matched game through two periods, but late into the third, Northeastern somehow scored two quick goals when no one was looking which led to Northeastern holding three tallies at the end of regulation to Clarkson’s one. Shots on goal were 29-24 in favor of Northeastern. Attendance was down the second game, which could be because of any number of reasons, but all in all, those that were there, seemed to be enjoying the international play. (Official attendance numbers were 2534 for the first game and 1861 for the second – still a sizable amount for free admittance games). Below are some action shots from the games.

Following each of the Friendship Series games, the hometown team, the Belfast Giants also had their regular season games scheduled, facing off against the Sheffield Steelers. I don’t remember all that much about the Saturday game, but the Sunday game was quite the show. After the Steelers took an early lead, the Giants came back in grand fashion late in the 3rd period and scored the game winner with minutes left in regulation. Below are a few action shots from the game.

One thing to note in that last shot, is the hole in the glass. That hole is often used by photographers instead of trying to capture shots through dirty glass. This was the first time I actually got to use one of these and it was quite a fun experience. (All the rinks I’ve photographed at before, didn’t have one). But the Giants’ photographer is like 6’10” (maybe an exaggeration – super awesome guy though) so this hole was far above my head. I had to stand on a chair to actually use it. It was fun though, 8 / 10, would use it again.

And lastly, with some final thoughts – This was an awesome experience and I am appreciative of the organizers of the Friendship Four / Friendship Series for doing what they did and continue to do. Belfast and the surrounding area is a wonderful place and I would highly suggest visiting sometime. I must say though, do it either very soon, or wait until the whole Brexit thing gets settled. If Brexit happens, a hard border could be installed between Ireland and Northern Ireland, which may make travel more difficult.

Up next in this series is the 2019 NCAA D1 Women’s Frozen Four! Stay tuned!


Note: If there is any information wrong in this article, please let me know at schuybreach@gmail.com or by messaging me on any of the social medias. I was going off of memory and what information I could find in my various and brief research.

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