Ice hockey at the WPFG

Ice hockey teams will be going for glory this August, but they won’t be targeting the Stanley Cup…

Instead it will be shooting for goals at the 2013 World Police and Fire Games (WPFG), which are being held in Belfast, Northern Ireland, and the sport looks to be one of the biggest events in the line up.

Ice hockey is massively popular in Northern Ireland thanks to its only professional home team, the Belfast Giants. And now the NI Tridents – the first ever all-Ireland joint emergency services sporting team on the Island – will be doing their best for the home crowd at the WPFG. But they’re going to be up against some stiff competition. As Team coach of the NI Tridents, Beni McCallister says, the 2013 WPFG “is more about the taking part,” and the games are a great chance to see some top class players in action.

Tailor-made for the Irish sporting heroes

Ice hockey fanatic and frequent Ireland visitor, Gerry Britt from the US, was curious about this growing hockey phenomenon: “I remember being very surprised the first time I heard about the Belfast Giants. The Irish play hockey? Really?” He has no doubt about the Tridents’ chances, though: “the island is geographically well placed to compete against many of the ice-bearing countries. Big, strong, stubborn, athletic, smart, and aggressive all come in handy for ice hockey. It’s a sport tailor-made for the Irish.”

Hockey’s Irish heritage

Irish hockey players have been around for years, notes Gerry. “Boston and New York especially have a fine tradition of popular Irish-American players and the sport has always been popular among the Irish city kids there.”

The New York Rangers’ roster, for instance, has McDonagh, Callahan and Boyle, while the NHL (National Hockey League) has even listed out the top 10 NHL players of Irish descent. In fact, a Belfast man, Owen Nolan, has played for the NHL for 18 seasons and looks set to complete another.

The sport isn’t for the faint hearted, either. Gerry sums it up as: “Hockey is basically hurling on ice: everyone chasing the puck on razor-sharp skates, hitting each other as hard as they can, and taking shots that can reach 108mph.”

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Opening act

Due to its popularity, the World Police and Fire Games will begin the ice hockey tournament before the official opening of the 2013 Games. The event will run from 25 July to 9 August at the home of the Belfast Giants in the Odyssey Arena and at the Dundonald International Ice Bowl. Around 96 teams are expected to compete in six categories – Open 1, Open 2, Over 35s, Over 45s, Women's and Novices. Each team will play at least four matches, followed by their category's semi-finals and final.

The NI Tridents could be facing some stiff competition from New York City, however. Gerry says: “The NYPD and NYFD play some of roughest amateur hockey in the USA and each takes great, great pride in beating the other.”

Hopefully our Northern Ireland newcomers will have the luck of the Irish behind them! Whether Beni’s team comes out on top, we’ll have to wait and see. Either way, it’s going to be some spectacle, so will you be there?

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