Belfast tipped as host city for NHL hockey

Belfast is already a hockey city for thousands of Belfast Giants fans. Credit: Presseye

Belfast is being tipped as a potential host city for NHL ice hockey, having already hosted the Boston Bruins in an exhibition game back in 2010.

The NHL is regarded as hockey’s gold standard around the world and the franchise has been making strides in breaking new international markets.

Prompted by the recent China Games in Shanghai and Beijing, The Score looked at three cities it felt could be worth attention from the NHL.

Belfast is already a city popular with tourists. Credit: Presseye

While Gangneung in South Korea and Hamar in Norway also caught their eye, Belfast in Northern Ireland was branded as potentially the “ideal setting” for the NHL.

Globally, the inclusion may raise eyebrows – but closer to home, it makes a lot of sense.

Belfast is already home to the Belfast Giants who play in the UK’s top-flight, the Elite League, at their 10,000 capacity SSE Arena base.

Belfast Giants fans are known for their passion and enthusiasm for the game. Credit: Presseye

Hockey may remain a niche sport, but one with a growing, dedicated fan base in a vibrant city ripe with tourism potential.

Belfast has also long-since earned its hockey stripes, so to speak, having previously hosted the NHL’s Boston Bruins, to play against a Giants Elite League Select side.

And the ties with Boston have only grown stronger in the years since, through a sister city tie-up, so the prospect of the Bruins returning would certainly be a welcome one.

The Vermont Catamounts were crowned last year's Friendship Four champions and lifted the Belpot trophy. Credit: Presseye

Belfast has also already become the first city outside North America to host competitive NCAA games, now played annually as part of the Friendship Four.

That tournament brings fast-paced college hockey to the city and culminates in a grand final, with the winning team claiming bragging rights and - in a nod to the Boston Beanpot - the Belpot tropy.

The city further served as home ice for Team GB just this year, when they hosted Division 1B of the IIHF championships.

The Barmy Army got to watch their team take historic gold at the SSE Arena and secure promotion to Division 1A.

Team GB went undefeated in Belfast to win world championship gold. Credit: Dean Woolley

All that aside, NHL teams generally are popular with UK fans who have already caught the hockey bug.

Any visitors from across the pond would be likely to prove a major draw.

The Giants themselves also seem keen to play host to some NHL visitors, with head coach Adam Keefe getting fans involved in the debate on who they would like to see play at the SSE Arena.