UMass hockey heads to Belfast for Friendship Four

  • UMass sophomore Austin Plevy gets a lesson in how to use a hurling stick during the Minutemen’s trip to Belfast, Northern Ireland. UMass will play Vermont in the Friendship Four on Friday. Courtesy Jillian Jakuba

@MattVautourDHG
Published: 11/24/2016 6:33:16 PM

For new UMass hockey coach Greg Carvel, the trip is potentially a chance to face his old team. For Callum Fryer, it’s an opportunity to play in front of relatives who have never seen him play. For all of the Minutemen, this weekend’s Friendship Four in Belfast, Northern Ireland, is a unique hockey experience.

The Minutemen will face Vermont at 11 a.m. on Friday. St. Lawrence and Quinnipiac will play at 2:30 p.m.

On Saturday, the winners will play at 2:30 and the losers at 11 a.m. All times are Eastern.

If UMass and SLU each have the same Friday result, Carvel will face his alma mater and the team he coached for the last four years.

“They’re playing really well right now. I know a lot about that team, obviously,” Carvel said Monday. “I don’t know if I want to play them or not. I’m just going to let fate take care or it. I’m excited to see those guys and see their parents and the administrators.”

Carvel said he’d be excited to go even without a possible St. Lawrence reunion.

“I’m excited. I have a lot of Irish roots,” Carvel said. “I’m looking forward to spending time with my players in a different environment. It’s always fun to travel internationally. It’ll be a real good chance for us to grow as a group in the first year with a new program.”

Sophomore Austin Plevy said the Minutemen were excited for the opportunity.

“It’s pretty cool. Obviously we’re over there to play hockey, but it’s a once in a lifetime experience so we’re pretty excited,” Plevy said.

The event is the second annual Friendship Four, a four-team tournament hosted by the Belfast Giants, who play in Great Britain’s Elite League, a low-level European professional circuit.

The team is a mixture of American and European players, including Easthampton native Jeff Mason, who has been part of the team since 2010.

The Giants were created to be a team that all fans in Northern Ireland could root for. In Europe, sports fans often align with teams based on religion or politics. Belfast’s history has featured considerable violence between the Seperatists, usually Catholics who want to unite with the Republic of Ireland, and Loyalists, usually Protestants who want to remain citizens of Great Britain. In soccer, the Separatists usually root for Celtic, and the Loyalists for the Rangers in the nearby Scottish Premiership.

But the Giants were created in 2000 to be a team both sides could root for. No anthem is played before the game and fans aren’t allowed to wear certain soccer jerseys or certain colors that might create conflict.

Last year the club hosted the innaugural Friendship Four, paying to bring two ECAC and two Hockey East teams over in an attempt to boost tourism.

The Minutemen arrived early Tuesday morning after an overnight flight from Hartford, Connecticut, and spent time in the city after practice. On Wednesday, they visited two Belfast schools. They offered a mini hockey clinic at one and were taught the Gaelic sport of hurling at the other.

After practice and sightseeing Thursday, the team was scheduled to have a Game of Thrones themed Thanksgiving dinner at Winterfell, where the HBO series is filmed.

Freyer, who was born in England, has grandparents and an uncle coming from Portsmouth, England, and Sussex County to see him.

“As soon as we heard about this, we started talking to my relatives to see what their plans were,” said Freyer, whose family moved to Canada when he was 2 years old. “I’m excited. They haven’t seen me play since I was in minor hockey.”

Sweden native William Lagesson was also expecting family.

Matt Vautour can be reached at mvautour@gazettenet.com. Get UMass coverage delivered in your Facebook news feed at www.facebook.com/GazetteUMassCoverage


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