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UNH plans a very long road trip

New Hampshire Union Leader

April 18. 2018 10:34PM
University of New Hampshire assistant hockey coach Mike Souza during the second period of their exhibition game vs. St. Francis Xavier at The Whittemore Center in Durham Sunday. (Mark Bolton/Union Leader)

The University of New Hampshire men’s hockey team will make its first trip to Belfast, Northern Ireland, in 2019 as part of the fifth annual Friendship Four tournament.

UNH and Northeastern University will represent Hockey East. Colgate and Princeton of the ECAC will be the tournament’s other two participants next year.

UNH will open against Northeastern, which will be making its second tournament appearance, in a Hockey East contest on Nov. 29, 2019, at SSE Arena. The Belpot title and third-place games are scheduled for the following day.

“It’s a pretty unique experience to synergize the many, many cultural components and historical components along with hockey,” UNH coach Mike Souza said. “I think it’s an unbelievable concept. Everyone that has been part of it talks about the invaluable experience their programs have had.”

Souza said UNH deputy director of athletics Steve Metcalf has been advocating for the Wildcats to be part of the tournament. Souza also said UNH Athletics Hall of Famer and 1979 graduate Ralph Cox’s connections may have helped. Cox, UNH’s all-time leading scorer, has been involved with the Friendship Four since it began.

“A lot of people have put enormous effort into making this tournament a once-in-a-lifetime experience and UNH is honored to be invited,” UNH director of athletics Marty Scarano said in a statement. “We certainly look forward to 2019 and the ability to grow our program through our participation in the Friendship Four.”

Souza, who finished his professional playing career in Italy, Switzerland and Germany, called the trip a “tremendous opportunity” for the school, program and his players.

“Having experienced playing in Europe as long as I did and to realize some kids have never been there and may never go back after, to use hockey as a conduit to get them there is pretty special,” Souza said. “And it’s one of the neat things we’re fortunate to do at (our) program: to play hockey at this level, to have these opportunities to play hockey in Fenway Park or Madison Square Garden or Belfast — wherever it may be — we certainly don’t take that lightly and we’re honored to be part of it.”

While UNH, Northeastern, Colgate and Princeton are in Belfast, each team will spend time talking hockey with members of the Belfast community, Souza said.

“One of the things I think is important is there’s community outreach things where the participating teams spread the hockey word, so to speak, getting out to some of the schools and talking about hockey and just various community outreach programs that are set up for the four teams that go over, which I find to be rewarding on both ends,” Souza said. “It’s one of the valuable teaching tools we’re afforded the opportunity to do.”

The games will count toward each team’s respective conference and overall records.

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THE UNH and Northeastern men’s teams will not be the only Hockey East representatives making a trip to Belfast next year.

The Northeastern women’s team will play two-time defending national champion Clarkson of the ECAC on Jan. 4-5, 2019, at SSE Arena in the first two ever international NCAA women’s hockey games. Both bouts will count toward Northeastern and Clarkson’s respective overall records.

Matti Hartman, a forward from Hanover, and Paige Capistran, a defender from Manchester, will be juniors on Northeastern’s women’s team next year. The Huskies women are coached by Dave Flint, who led St. Anselm College from 2004-08.

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