Roenick aids auction for Clinton Arena
Jeremy Roenick did his part to make sure Clinton Arena thrives long after Kraft Hockeyville is over.
Roenick, a forward who played 20 seasons in the NHL and scored 513 goals, led an auction at nearby Hamilton College. Signed NHL merchandise was among the items for bidding.
“What we try to do with Kraft Hockeyville, the NHL, NBC and the NHL Players’ Association is we try to celebrate hockey and the game and make it better for the kids growing up, try to introduce hockey to as many kids as we possibly can because there is no question that hockey is the greatest sport in the world,” Roenick said.
Having covered each of the previous three Kraft Hockeyville USA games, Roenick said he never gets tired of the event.
“I do a lot of events throughout my season,” he said. “I’m on the road 290 days this year. But so far, Clinton has been the best Kraft Hockeyville event that I have been to.”
Roenick helped auction off a signed picture of Sage Rink, the hockey arena at Hamilton College, which was signed by himself as well as members of the Clinton Comets. To sweeten the pot, he said the winner would also get two tickets to a Stanley Cup Final game this season. The photo sold for over $2,000, all of which will go toward Clinton Arena.
“Your kids of Clinton are going to get a special treat [Tuesday] when they can actually talk to some of those guys on television, and when they talk to them, they are going to remember it forever,” said Roenick, who will be with NBCSN during the broadcast of the game. “The guys care about their community, they care about their team and they care about the people who come to watch it.
“These kids are going to have looks on their faces that you’ve never seen before.”
Panarin, Eichel on rosters for Blue Jackets, Sabres
Artemi Panarin and Jack Eichel are among the notable names expected to play for the Columbus Blue Jackets and Buffalo Sabres at Clinton Arena on Tuesday.
Blue Jackets forwards Anthony Duclair and Boone Jenner, and defenseman Seth Jones, are also traveling to Clinton.
Eichel will center Buffalo’s first line with Jeff Skinner and Sam Reinhart.
“They’ve been really good together and they’ll be together tomorrow,” coach Phil Housley told the Sabres website.
Skinner, Reinhart (goal) and Eichel (assist) each played in Kraft Hockeyville in Marquette, Michigan in 2016, a 2-0 win against the Carolina Hurricanes. Skinner was with the Hurricanes at the time; he was traded to the Sabres on Aug. 2.
“This is going to be fun tomorrow,” said Housley, who played for the Sabres from 1982-90. “It’ll be a packed house, which is great for the atmosphere.”
Housley recalls youth hockey experience
Housley is a member of the Hockey Hall of Fame, but long before he played in the NHL, he got his start at rinks in his hometown of St. Paul, Minnesota.
“It was great ice,” Housley said of the city’s high school rink. “I used to get up early in the morning, my mom used to drop me off at 7-8 a.m., then the rest of the guys would come. But every Saturday and Sunday morning, that was the ice to be on. It was great to be out there by myself until my buddies would come.”
Housley, who spent eight of his 21 NHL seasons with the Sabres, said the importance of hockey in the United States wasn’t lost on him, and it will be reflected in Buffalo’s roster for the game Tuesday.
“I’ll try to get as many U.S. guys into that game because obviously it’s a Kraft Hockeyville USA game,” Housley said. “But in another way, we are trying to look at combinations. We didn’t want to have too many guys play back to back, but there will be some guys playing back to back.”
The Sabres have a preseason game against the Pittsburgh Penguins on Wednesday.
“Just talking to our guys, we certainly want to enjoy it,” Housley said. “It’s going to be a great atmosphere there, even at the pregame skate. Obviously we have business to take care of, but I just told the guys, enjoy the moment. It’s great to be part of such a big occasion, especially with U.S. hockey.
Former Mohawk Valley player shares memories of Tortorella
Dave Litz was born in Clinton and played for the Mohawk Valley (formerly Clinton) Comets in 1985-86. He also played against Blue Jackets coach John Tortorella, who is expected here when Columbus arrives Tuesday.
“He definitely coaches the way he played,” Litz said. “He was super-high energy, sacrificed everything and blocked shots, could score, and fight. He did it all. He was like an old-school guy and I’m sure that’s what he demands out of his players to give 100 percent on every shift.”
Litz, who now works for a moving company, had a photocopy of a newspaper article at his desk from when he played against Tortorella during the 1985-86 season. Litz and Mohawk Valley lost 5-2 to Tortorella and Virginia at the Utica Memorial Auditorium; Tortorella had a hat trick.
When asked about his game that night Tortorella said in the article, “The puck was just there.”
Litz coached youth hockey and became an assistant at Clinton High School in 1999 before taking over as coach in 2001. His teams won three Section III titles (2004-07) and back-to-back Division II state titles (2005, ’06), going 26-1-3 each season.
“I was fortunate enough to be born and raised in Clinton with such a great hockey tradition,” he said. “Also just as fortunate to play professional hockey in the minors in the [Atlantic Coast Hockey League] and later in the ECHL.
“After my playing days, I came back to Clinton and started coaching youth hockey, then got the opportunity to coach the high school team, winning back-to-back state championships in 2005 and 2006. To give back to your community and home town is a special feeling. It’s an honor to be a part of a rich hockey tradition in such a small town.”
Clinton Arena gets final touches
With the red-carpet arrivals for the Columbus Blue Jackets and Buffalo Sabres less than 24 hours away and the preseason game to follow Tuesday, the final touches are being put on Clinton Arena.
The arena, which seats about 2,000, used the $150,000 grand prize money to fix the roof and lighting, provide better netting around the entire arena and upgrade the locker rooms, among other things. The dasher boards were also placed around the rink late Sunday.
There will be a fundraising dinner at Hamilton College on Monday, with items auctioned off to raise money for the Clinton community. Members of the Clinton Comets, who played at Clinton Arena from 1949-1973 before moving to nearby Utica Memorial Auditorium from 1973-77, will also be on hand. Former NHL player Jeremy Roenick will emcee the event.
Clinton celebrates 100 years of hockey
Hockey was introduced to Clinton in February 1918 when Albert Prettyman, the athletic director at Hamilton College, iced over a tennis court for the first game in the area.
To celebrate 100 years of hockey in Clinton, the website ThankYouAlbertPrettyman.com was launched explain Prettyman’s story and the growth of the game here in the past century. There was a weekend-long celebration February 8-11 this year that coincided nicely with the town’s Kraft Hockeyville USA entry.
The site includes rosters from teams over the years, player profiles and memories, and a look back at each decade of hockey in Clinton. It also allows fans to submit and share their hockey memories.
Prettyman also coached the United States to the bronze medal at the 1936 Bavaria Olympics.
Rink manager thankful for support, renovations
Mike Orsino has worked at Clinton Arena for more than 40 years and is excited to see the rink get the upgrades it needs.
“I was hired in 1971, so I have been here since the old Comet days,” he said. “It’s truly awesome. It’s been quite a process. It’s been a very busy summer getting things ready, but the future looks bright for the Clinton Arena.”
The Comets played in several leagues, including the Eastern Hockey League and North American Hockey League, and received support from a notable hockey figure during the Kraft Hockeyville USA nomination process.
“After we were nominated, Stan Fischler gave us a very high recommendation on the NHL Network and I think that was the shot in the arm that we needed to help catapult us to the final four,” Orsino said. “Then it was a voting process. I got calls from people from Minnesota, Wisconsin, Florida, people that had voted for us that were in the area years ago and came back.”
Orsino was proud of all the hard work done by his staff, and everyone at Kraft and the NHL, and is looking forward to Tuesday.
“It’s been quite a ride and I’m waiting for the game tomorrow,” he said. “It will be quite a treat for everybody.”
DOP meets with Clinton community leaders
Clinton mayor John Crossley, along with several town officials, attended a Declaration of Principles dinner at Alteri’s restaurant. Rob Wooley, director of legislative affairs, public policy and partnership development for the NHL, gave a presentation on the DOP and its mission statement. The DOP involves several key ideologies which aim to re-educate hockey at every level and create a positive family experience while promoting hockey for everyone.
“Our objective is moving forward in terms of growing our game and building more vibrant communities through hockey, and certainly we’ve seen that throughout hockey communities throughout the country thanks to Kraft Hockeyville,” Wooley said.
The objective was to educate the community on the importance of the DOP while also listening to ideas and thoughts of the community members.
“We had a nice robust discussion with Mayor Crossley on how hockey and youth sports play a part in the community,” Wooley said. “It’s really a discussion about how hockey and youth sports in general plays a major role in building a vibrant community, and Mayor Crossley has expressed significant interest in learning more about how the declaration of principles can serve as a bedrock platform for their effort to do that.”
Although Clinton Arena was renovated with the winnings from Kraft Hockeyville USA, the mission of the DOP is to make sure hockey continues to grow in the area long after the weekend celebration is over.
“The objective is to put less focus on elite play and more emphasis on providing hockey programs where kids can just go out and have fun with their friends,” Wooley said. “It’s not about winning and losing and being competitive.
“The Clinton community, the NHL, Kraft and the NHL Players’ Association are all aligned on the future of hockey in Clinton.”
Stanley Cup visits Clinton
The Stanley Cup made its first stop at Hamilton College in Clinton, New York, where the men’s and women’s hockey teams got to see hockey’s ultimate prize.
The Cup also made a surprise visit at the home of Amy Prenee, whose husband was on the local organizing committee before he died in June. The next stop was an assisted living home before heading to Clinton Arena, where hundreds lined up for a chance to see it and take a picture.
Jeremy, a 27-year-old fan who declined to give his last name, arrived three-and-a-half hours early and was first in line.
“I would’ve camped out overnight if that’s what it took,” he said. “I’m from just outside of Clinton and I’ve lived here all my life. I was born a hockey fan, always.
“I went bananas just like everyone else in the community. There is so much representation here in the hockey community. Between the game, the Stanley Cup presentation, all the support of the community, it’s amazing.”
Palmieri happy to see hometown win Hockeyville
Nick Palmieri was born in Clinton and made it to the NHL. He’s hoping not to be the last person to make that claim.
“This is where I first played hockey and first learned to skate,” the 29-year-old retired forward said at Clinton Arena during a Stanley Cup visit and community skate Sunday.
“I hope that they can see me and see someone that grew up in the same town that they are growing up in and was able to play in the NHL. I think the fact that these kids are going to be able to see an NHL preseason game in the arena that they play in is pretty amazing. I know if I was a kid, I would be extremely excited.”
Palmieri was chosen by the New Jersey Devils in the third round (No. 79) of the 2007 NHL Draft. He had 25 points (13 goals, 12 assists) in 87 games with the Devils and Minnesota Wild.
He hopes winning Kraft Hockeyville would spur another generation of hockey players in Clinton and the surrounding towns.
“I think it’s things that are going to hopefully grow the game in the area,” Palmieri said. “When I was a kid growing up, every kid I went to school with played hockey for the most part and I don’t think the interest is there like it used to be but if this doesn’t spark some interest, I don’t know what else they could do around here to get more people interested in the game. It’s exciting to have that level of competition in this arena.”
As soon as Clinton was named a top four finalist, Palmieri did his part to get the community to vote.
“I knew it was something that the arena needed as far as the renovations,” he said. “I think they’ve done a tremendous job with the renovations that they’ve done.”
Clinton mayor grateful for support
John Crossley, the mayor of Clinton, was shocked when his community was named a top four finalist for Kraft Hockeyville USA. But once that happened, he made sure to do everything he could and get everyone in the community to vote for Clinton Arena to host the once-in-a-lifetime event.
“There was a lot of publicity out there to vote for the award,” Crossley said. “That’s when I became involved. Once we won, we were so excited, I created a parade throughout the village announcing that we were the winner. We have been meeting weekly ever since.”
Crossley grew up in the area and mentioned Clinton’s deep hockey roots.
“Back in the 1950s and ’60s, we had our own professional hockey team here called the Clinton Comets, and at that point, we were known as the smallest hockey town in the North American content,” Crossley said. “So we have grown up with hockey. When anybody thinks of Clinton, they think of hockey. We’ve had tremendous youth hockey and high school programs, and we are very proud of our heritage of hockey.”
Crossley was overjoyed with the support and everything that has been done to improve the rink since Clinton won Kraft Hockeyville USA in April.
“The arena has never looked better,” he said. “I grew up with that arena, so it really looks nice now. The crew has done a great job painting and cleaning, and the NHL and Kraft have helped a lot with everything as well. Clinton Arena is ready for the game on Tuesday.”
Crossley was present at the fan fair Saturday, which raised money from food and merchandise to go toward the youth hockey programs.
“I think it’s going to be wonderful to see the community rally around all the festivities,” he said. “I’m particularly happy for all the kids in the school who will have the opportunity to maybe even see and meet the players when the go through the red carpet on Tuesday.
“It is a once in a lifetime opportunity for the village and town to highlight its hockey heritage; hockey has been a part of Clinton for 100 years.”
May, Shelley among NHL alumni at fan fest
Brad May and Jody Shelley were among the NHL alumni present during a celebration in Clinton. Each has a connection with one of the teams participating in the game Tuesday: May spent seven seasons with the Sabres (1991-98) and Shelly spent seven seasons with the Blue Jackets (1991-98).
“Being invited to these things, I don’t take it for granted, it’s a lot of fun,” said May, a forward who played in the NHL from 1991-2010. “It’s about the next generation and all these kids, and hopefully we can inspire some of these young guys and young girls.”
May, who does television work for the Vegas Golden Knights, said it brought him back to his childhood.
“I remember meeting [NHL player Keith Acton] and aspiring and dreaming to be him and play against him as a kid,” May said. “I think that’s what these events are about. It can light a spark under some kids.”
Shelley, who is the color commentator for Blue Jackets telecasts, had heard about Kraft Hockeyville but never experienced it until Saturday.
“It’s pretty spectacular that this small town in New York got this honor,” said Shelley, who spent 12 seasons in the NHL as a forward from 2000-13 said. “You know it’s special but until you get here and see it, you don’t realize how big of a deal is it. I know the Blue Jackets organization is excited to be a part of this. They’ll get that chance to see hockey players up close.”
Shelley played for the Johnstown Chiefs of the ECHL in 1999-00. Johnstown was the inaugural Kraft Hockeyville USA winner in 2015.
“It looked amazing,” he said. “So I know what it’s like from afar. Hearing those stories was one thing but being here and experiencing it is another.
“This rejuvenates the hockey community around the biggest rink in town. There are a lot of hockey teams around this area, in Syracuse and Utica (American Hockey League) but this does a lot for the hockey community in New York.”
Youth coach thrilled with Kraft Hockeyville win
Clinton will benefit greatly from winning the title of Kraft Hockeyville USA, especially its youth hockey programs.
“My kids and their kids can possibly carry on this tradition for 100 years,” Jim O’Brien, a youth hockey coach in Clinton said.
Although he hasn’t yet seen the upgrades to the arena, O’Brien said he knows it will be a big improvement.
“The investments that went back into the rink were much needed,” O’Brien said. “Who knows what would have happened if we didn’t get this opportunity from the NHL and Kraft? The area is kind of reinventing itself and the community is kind of reestablishing itself as the father of hockey in the Mohawk Valley.”
O’Brien played hockey growing up and said celebrating 100 years of hockey in Clinton timed nicely with the Hockeyville bid.
“We never thought we would win,” he said. “However, with the amount of effort that was put in by the community, I knew we were well prepared to showcase what this town was about, with the Clinton Comets, and 100 years of hockey in Clinton, New York. This community is huge as far as supporting hockey and anything hockey related.”
Sestito has fond Hockeyville memories
Tom Sestito knows firsthand how much Kraft Hockeyville means to the winning community.
The 30-year-old forward, who retired from the NHL after the 2016-17 season, played at two of the previous three Kraft Hockeyville USA games in 2015 (Johnstown, Pa.) and 2017 (Cranberry, Pa.) as a member of the Pittsburgh Penguins.
“It was a neat experience playing in those games, seeing how the communities come together for the event,” Sestito said.
Sestito, who is from nearby Rome, N.Y., played with Utica in the AHL, not far from Clinton. He signed autographs and took pictures at the fan fest.
“It’s nice to meet kids and do something nice for the community, especially being somewhere close to where I grew up,” he said. “I saw how it was like having played in two of these and it’s always a neat experience.”
Clinton ready for celebration
The Hockeyville USA celebration began in the morning at the Lutheran Care Church in Clinton, where Kraft donated products to benefit the Food Pantry and hosted a pancake breakfast.
Later in the afternoon, there will be a community celebration at the Village Green and Park Row with thousands expected to attend. There will be many activities for kids and parents, including an autograph and question-and-answer session with NHL alumni including Jody Shelley, a forward who played with the Blue Jackets from 2000-08, and now serves as a color commentator for Columbus telecasts, and Brad May, a forward who played with the Sabres from 1991-98. The mayor of Clinton, John Crossley, will also be on hand, selling Kraft Hockeyville merchandise to raise money for the community.
The Kraft Hockeyville Trophy will also be in attendance as will an exhibit dedicated to 100 years of hockey in Clinton. There will be performances from local musicians as well.
The village fair will take place a few minutes from Clinton Arena, which has been a part of the community since 1948-49. It was rebuilt in 1954 following a fire and was named to the National Historic Register in 2010.
Restaurant owner shows love for hockey
Alteri’s restaurant has been a staple in Clinton since 1953 and has been known as the hockey spot in town since then.
Third-generation owner Fran Alteri, whose family moved to Clinton from Utica, has showcased their love of hockey by decorating all corners of the restaurant with memorabilia, including from the American Hockey League (with Utica and Syracuse, two AHL towns, not far away), the NHL (Buffalo Sabres), and the Clinton Comets, who played here from 1927-77 in various leagues.
“What the NHL has done has put in a big breath of fresh air for us, to help remodel the arena, which looks incredible,” Alteri said. “It’s also promoted the game, so now we have little kids that want to play. Let them go as far as they want to go. If their aspiration is to be an NHL player or a high school player, let’s give them the opportunity to do that, which the NHL and Kraft have done.”
Alteri played hockey growing up and coached the local high school team to two state championships as an assistant but left because of time commitments with the restaurant.
“When my grandparents came to town, none of the elder generation ever skated, but someone told my mother, ‘Make sure your kids learn to skate, because if you are going to live in Clinton you’re going to have to know how to skate.’ If you lived here, there was nothing else to do, so you just fell in love with hockey.”
Community movie night
The day’s festivities came to an end with a movie night hosted by the Clinton fire department at Clinton Central School. The hockey movie “Miracle” was shown, and all money raised from refreshment sales was given to the fire department.
Sunday will be another big day in Clinton with the Stanley Cup making several appearances before a public viewing at Clinton Arena from noon-4 p.m. Clinton Central alumni will play two, two-period hockey games against Clinton Hamilton college players and members of the Clinton figure skating club.