(Photo by William Cherry/Presseye)
As the ceremonial puck was dropped by Belfast’s Lord Mayor Nuala McAllister, Friendship Four 2017 was underway. The annual hockey tournament, which is the only NCAA tournament to take place internationally, was celebrating its third year, and the crowds proved that the skill of the college players is definitely catching on.
The first game between ECAC division rivals RPI and Clarkson was the second time this month that these two teams saw each other across the puck. As division rivals, they play each other frequently throughout the season, and on November 3, the Clarkson University Golden Knights had schooled RPI’s Engineers to the tune of a 6-0 final, so RPI clearly was hoping for a different outcome.
Josh Dickinson capitalized on the man advantage at 18:10 of the opening period putting Clarkson on the board first with the only goal scored in the first. The score would still be 1-0 in favor of Clarkson when the teams went into their rooms for the second intermission. It actually looked like it might be a one-goal game as the clock ticked under the three-minute mark of the final twenty but Dickinson found his second opportunity and gave Clarkson a little breathing room in those final few moments.
Throughout the game the cheering from the students of the schools the players had visited earlier in the week spoke to their interest in the college players that visited them. Clarkson had also brought their pep band—a first for this tournament—which head coach Casey Jones attributes to part of the atmosphere that helps his team win. And it clearly continued to help the Golden Knights on Friday night, as did the secondary scoring from Dickinson who seemed to be in all the right places at the right times.
The Hockey East division game saw the Providence Friars taking on the University of Maine Black Bears. Overall in their division, the Black Bears have won more games between the two teams, however, Friday night’s game the Black Bears seemed to struggle to bury any of their chances. Their freshman goaltender, Jeremy Swayman, worked hard to keep his team in the game, but as head coach Red Gendron pointed out, the team must score at the other end.
The Providence Friars were tentative in the first period, but as they continued in the second, it was clear they were getting more comfortable and after Ryan Tait got the Friars on the board at 15:12 of that middle frame, their confidence was clear. It was still just a one-goal game, as the clock neared the midway mark of the third period, when Maine’s Brendan Robbins was called for a hooking and the Friars took advantage on the power play. That goal gave the Friars an energy that Maine just couldn’t combat, and a late major high-sticking, contact to the head penalty sealed the fates of the Black Bears. The Friar’s Tait notched his second of the game on an empty net during the power play.
Both Maine and RPI must push off the sting of their losses on Friday night as they will meet each other in the consolation game Saturday afternoon (10AM Eastern Time). As for Clarkson and Providence, while they have experienced the high of their wins, they now must refocus to see who will raise and ring the school bell that is the trophy awarded to the winner of the Friendship Four tournament. They meet on the ice at 7:00pm (2pm ET).