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Live From The NCAA Friendship Four: Part 1

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Chowder's Paul Wheeler is working at the NCAA Friendship Four tournament in Belfast this week as part of the broadcast team that will show games across Europe and North America. This is the first in a regular series of daily updates from the Northern Irish capital, giving you a unique look inside the only NCAA tournament that takes place outside North America

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Chowder pieces have probably been written from many strange places, but I am willing to bet that this is the first piece to be filed from a point almost equally distant from any land nearby- the middle of the Irish Sea, three hours into an eight hour ferry journey from Liverpool, England, to Belfast in Northern Ireland.

As I write this the Isle of Man is slipping by slowly in the afternoon haze to my right, and I am on a journey to the Northern Irish capital to be a part of something Chowder readers may well see on their own TV screens this weekend-the second annual Friendship Four hockey tournament, which will see four NCAA schools compete on the opposite side of the ocean from their normal haunts in only the second time NCAA hockey has ever been played outside North America – with the first being last year’s tournament.

The Friendship Four is a tournament with strong Boston and New England links – indeed, it was created last year to celebrate the links between Belfast and its twin city in Boston. On Thanksgiving Weekend 2015 Northeastern, Brown, Colgate and UMass (Lowell) Universities were the participants in the inaugural competition, known as the "Belpot", with the Lowell River Hawks coming out as the inaugural Belpot champions.

The competition was such a great success it has now become an annual fixture in Belfast, with this season’s edition seeing Quinnipiac, Vermont, UMass (Amherst) and St Lawrence University representing the NCAA across the Atlantic this weekend to compete for the second annual Belpot Trophy.

So what does this have to do with me and you, you ask? Well, I am travelling as part of the broadcast team for the tournament, and will be providing a daily blog for Chowder giving you a look not just at the tournament itself, but also at just what it takes to broadcast a major hockey tournament not just across North America and Europe, including live on NESN in New England and on their nationwide feed, Sportsnet in NY. and 66 other channels across the eastern US and Canada.

The teams have been in Belfast since Monday, but a team of 8 of us left our base in England at 6am this morning local time for the 12-hour journey to Belfast. The team is full of British broadcast professionals who’ve broadcast games across Europe, including the CHL, the highest level of European club competition. There are four others waiting in Belfast already for a setup that will take a day-and-a-half before the broadcasts on Friday and Saturday. Tonight will see our cabling laid and prepared for a full day of setting up tomorrow as the teams practice once again.

There’ll be regular updates between now and Sunday giving you a view of the tournament and the city you might not normally get, as well as all the buzz associated with a major NCAA tournament. The teams are doing their part, visiting local schools and building anticipation for a tournament that saw nearly 20,000 people watch the games in the arena last year and many more on TV.

So, if you're curious about the Thanksgiving NCAA tournament taking place an ocean away and want to know just what it's like broadcasting a major NCAA tournament, or just want to keep up with the names, Chowder has you covered.

You can follow the games live on the Premier Sports TV facebook as well as on TV, and all the latest news on the tournament can be found on Twitter at @Friendship_Four.

Now, though, with three hours left to run to Belfast, time to carry on preparing. Stay tuned for the next update!