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With the Boston Bruins in China as part of Bruins global, it gave us the chance to look back at other times the NHL has traveled outside of North America. Such as when, in 2010, six NHL teams played in Europe. This involved the Bruins who played two games against the Coyotes (splitting the series one a piece) and a game against HC Liberec of the Czech Republic, along with a trip to Belfast, Northern Ireland to play the Belfast Giants Select hockey team.
This was something new for the city of Belfast. A city that throughout history has become known for its trouble. Their local team, the Belfast Giants, thrive on being neutral. So much that they play in the color teal—a cross between blue and green, which represents both sides of the country. The arrival of the Bruins showed not only how far the city had developed, but also how they could host one of the NHL’s biggest teams. Something that hadn’t happened in the UK for three years and never before in Northern Ireland. The city hosting such an event would have seemed impossible just a few years beforehand.
The match was played at the Odyssey Arena (now SSE Arena), home of the Belfast Giants since their formation in the year 2000. The Belfast Giants Select team was made up of players from the Elite Ice Hockey League (the highest form of competitive hockey in the UK). The home team was captained by the Giants own Colin Shields, a native of Scotland. He lined up against Zdeno Chara of Boston while Stephen Murphy battled Tuukka Rask in goal. Jade Galbraith put the Giants into the lead by shooting top shelf in the second period. However, the Bruins fought back, taking a 2-1 lead moments later with goals from then-rookie Tyler Seguin and Captain Zdeno Chara. 20 seconds later, Marchand put the visitors up by two. The second period finished with Boston leading 3-1. Eight minutes into the third, Lucic made it four, showing the difference between the two sides. Before the buzzer, Seguin was hooked and awarded a penalty shot. It was converted for the final goal of the night and a 5-1 win for the boys in black and gold.
So why was this 5-1 pre season friendly important?
For the Bruins, it was another in a long list of preparation for the upcoming NHL season. They had been eliminated by the Philadelphia Flyers in the Stanley Cup the season before. And of course, would eventually go on to win the cup in 2011. The European tour provided a unique experience for the players, especially Shawn Thornton, whose mother was from Belfast and moved to Canada at a young age. The chance to play in the city gave him the opportunity to not only bring his mother back to see her family, but a chance to see where his grandparents grew up while creating some new, modern memories in Northern Ireland.
Today, the legacy of the Bruins still lives in the SSE Arena. Jerseys presented by the Bruins to the Giants are on display, while huge images painted into the arena screen moments from the match. Hockey has become more popular in the city, and average crowds have risen to over 4,000 a game. Since 2016, the Belfast Giants have hosted the Friendship Four, a NCAA event which invites universities (mainly those near Boston) to compete over Thanksgiving weekend. Meanwhile, many fans ask, “Will we ever see an NHL team in Belfast again?” While we may not know the answer, Stanley Cup winners such as Kevin Westgarth and Jim Vandermeer have called Belfast home in recent years. All part of the legacy created by a visit from the Boston Bruins.