The Clinton Arena was chosen as one of the 4 finalists for Kraft Hockeyville on April 1, 2017. The 35 hour voting window opened on Friday, April 13th at 12:00am and communities throughout Central New York voted as many times as possible. I voted so many times I became an expert at picking out photos of bridges, traffic lights and roads. Anyone who voted online knows EXACTLY what I am talking about.
The winner was announced on Saturday, April 14, 2018, a day everyone will remember. I was sitting in my living room watching the 3:00pm NHL playoff game between the Colorado Avalanche and Nashville Predators. The buzzer sounded and the intermission report began. Liam McHugh introduced NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman and my palms began to sweat and the butterflies started flying around inside my stomach. I stood in front of the TV anxiously waiting for Mr. Bettman to quit rambling and get the point. Then I heard it:
“The winner of 2018 Kraft Hockeyville USA is…..Clinton, New York”
I was ecstatic. I couldn’t wipe the smile off of my face. Facebook blew up with videos and pictures from the viewing party at the arena. People who had never even heard of Clinton before all of my tweets asking them to vote were congratulating me on Twitter. I felt like a proud Dad. My arena, my town, is finally getting the recognition it deserves. This is something HUGE for our area.
What Does Hockeyville Mean To Me?
I was born and raised in Clinton, NY and have been skating on the Clinton Arena ice since I was 3 years old. I played 16 years of youth hockey in Clinton and one year on the varsity team. The arena was, and still is, a second home to me. Countless memories have been made and life lessons learned at the arena.
I remember walking into the arena at 5:30am for those early morning practices before school and walking through the doors into the well and being met with a blast of the coldest air you’ve ever felt in your life. I remember running around after evening practice and jumping from row to row in the stands and cutting my knee open on the concrete. I still have the scar to prove it. Those infamous blue seats? They hadn’t been installed yet, it was just rows and rows of wooden chairs.
I remember in the mid 90’s going to the high school games and the atmosphere was awesome. There was a live band made up of all Clinton students, the back concession stand was always open as were those back bathrooms. There wasn’t an empty seat in the place and people stood three to four deep at the railing. Clinton high school hockey games were the place to be. I was one of those little kids trying to get high fives from the players as they went off the ice, a “tradition” that still lives on today. Those kids yelling and screaming just to get a high five will one day grow up and be the ones delivering those high fives. I know this because I was one of them.
I remember the shooting room and aiming for the bowling pins that were dangling from the crossbar for target practice. I remember being creeped out walking down the dark, dimly lit, hallway under the bleachers that runs from the office (by locker room 4) down to the Zamboni. I remember the chaos that was public skating on Thursdays after school.
I think the most vivid memory I have of the arena is the smell. There is a distinct smell inside The Clinton Arena. I don’t know if it’s the old rubber mats, the cleaning solution they use when mopping, or maybe a combination of the two, but I love the smell of the arena. That smell still exists today. When walking in to ref or play in men’s league I am still greeted by that same smell from my childhood.
The arena hasn’t changed much in appearance in the 30 years I have been going there. Along with the NHL preseason game comes $150,000 to be used for arena upgrades. The arena is in desperate need of a face-lift. There have been some major improvements over the years, but it has all sort of flown under the radar. New lights were installed a few years ago, and new glass and a refrigeration unit were just installed last month that was secured with funding from the state. Now it’s time to focus on improving the locker rooms and lobby so the arena can continue to create memories for my children and grandchildren. It’s time to bring the arena into the 21st century and the last couple of years has been a great step in that direction.
Clinton’s Hockey History
Aside from my personal memories, the history of the arena and town as a whole is something that makes me proud. There is so much history inside the arena and the surrounding areas. Last February the town celebrated 100 years of hockey. If you are not familiar with Albert Prettyman I urge you to read his story.
The celebration featured three nationally recognized hockey personalities including Guy Hebert, a goaltender for Hamilton College who went on to play 10 seasons in the NHL with the St. Louis Blues, Mighty Ducks of Anaheim, Toronto Maple Leafs and New York Rangers; Pat Kelly, former player/coach of the Clinton Comets; and Stan Fischler, hockey historian. There was also Clinton High School and Hamilton College games, alumni games and other community events.
The Clinton Comets are a huge part of the hockey history in Clinton. The Comets were a professional team who called the Clinton arena home for almost 25 years. Many of the members of the Comets remained in the area after retiring from their playing days and they turned to coaching. Former Clinton Comets such as Jack Kane, Pierre Prevost and Ian Anderson played a big role in the youth hockey community and not only taught hockey skills, but life skills as well.
Hockeyville is about showing the country what 100 years of hockey looks like. It’s about pride. I am proud to have left my sweat, blood and tears on the ice playing for something I love — Clinton. I love the Clinton Arena and I am damn proud to have played all of my youth hockey and high school hockey in that building. My father and uncle grew up playing hockey in Clinton and attended Clinton Comets games when they were kids. Hockey is in our blood and there are many more families just like ours in Clinton. Clintonians are born with skates on their feet and a stick in their hands….
Clinton is hockey.