CLINTON — Experiencing an NHL game at the Clinton Arena was hard for LeeAnn Chesebro to describe.

Chesebro, a 2016 Clinton Central graduate currently studying at Morrisville State College, watched the 69-year-old rink’s Kraft Hockeyville USA grand prize culminate Tuesday night with an NHL preseason game between the Buffalo Sabres and Columbus Blue Jackets.

Watching from the sixth row in her brother’s Clinton Comets bantam jersey, Chesebro and nearly 1,800 others watched Columbus score two third-period goals in a 4-2 win over the Sabres.

While many in attendance cheered for the Sabres, Chesebro was less concerned with the final score. Instead, she was awestruck by the dedication shown by her village of less than 2,000 to earn the right to host an NHL game in the same arena where she has skated for 14 years.

“I can’t even describe it, honestly,” said Chesebro, 20, who also worked at the Clinton Arena cash register for four years. “It’s such an honor for us to have this. … For us to come together as a community again and embrace the fact that our history is so important to us, and to come back and reflect on that, I think that this just made it more enjoyable.”

Many more watched the game live on the NBC Sports Network with former Utica Comets broadcaster Brendan Burke providing the play-by-play.

The pregame ceremony was emotionally charged, too. Former Observer-Dispatch sports editor and current Waterville Times publisher Patty Louise joined lead Hockeyville organizer Andy Burns and Town of Kirkland town supervisor Bob Meelan at center ice, where they were presented the Hockeyville trophy before a rousing, standing ovation.

Burns, a Clinton Central and Hamilton College graduate who now lives in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, was the spark in Clinton Arena’s Hockeyville USA grand prize victory — which also includes $150,000 toward rink renovations — by organizing the “Thank You, Albert Prettyman” celebration in February, where many Clinton Central and Hamilton College alumni gathered to commemorate 100 years of hockey in the village.

Prettyman is a Greater Utica Sports Hall of Famer who iced over a Clinton tennis court in 1918. Not only was he a hockey coach and athletic director at Hamilton College, he also coached the 1936 USA Olympic hockey team to a bronze medal in Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany.

Following Tuesday night’s singing of the National Anthem by members of the Clinton Central choir, Town of Kirkland Parks and Recreation official Mike Orsino, who oversees Clinton Arena and has worked at the rink since 1971, received thunderous applause when he dropped the ceremonial puck with Jack Eichel of the Sabres and Boone Jenner of the Blue Jackets.

NHL commissioner Gary Bettman also attended the game.

Plenty of reminders of Clinton Arena’s 2018 Hockeyville USA grand prize win were sprinkled around the building in the form of banners, signs, and even painted steps. The red and silver Kraft Hockeyville logo with “Clinton Arena” surrounding it now engulfs center ice.

Fans with Buffalo, Columbus, Clinton Central and Hamilton College hockey gear waved their Hockeyville towels as they filled the arena once home to the professional Clinton Comets team famous for skating in the Eastern Hockey League for 19 years.

The seating arrangements were intimate. The length of the rink had six rows of seats. On one end, a sixth row was created on the lowest level with folding chairs practically right up against the glass.

“I love playing on an ice like that,” Buffalo right winger Sam Reinhart said. “It’s a little bit different. It’s more like the size I grew up playing on with my club at home. It’s a cool experience when the fans are that close, as well, and they’re that passionate. It’s people like this that drive the game of hockey and make it so popular. I don’t take opportunities like this for granted, coming to a town like this and being able to play in front of them.”

Sabres defenseman Casey Nelson said he enjoyed the “old-time hockey” feel Clinton Arena presented. He even mentioned watching “Slap Shot” — the 1977 hockey film that was shot less than 10 miles from Clinton Arena at the Adirondack Bank Center at the Utica Memorial Auditorium in Utica — with his teammates earlier in the day.

Buffalo coach Phil Housley was even amused by the locker room setup.

“I don’t know how many locker rooms have a window in it,” Housley said, laughing. “We had windows in our locker room. It brought flashbacks from the past.”

NHL-related activities took over Clinton since Saturday. There was an NHL Alumni Q&A, a Clinton Central alumni game, a fund-raising gala featuring former NHL player and current analyst Jeremy Roenick, and former Clinton Comets were honored for helping turn Clinton into Hockeyville. The Stanley Cup even made multiple visits around the village.

But the grand finale was the Buffalo Sabres (2-3-0) and the Columbus Blue Jackets (2-4-0) playing an NHL preseason game at the historic Clinton Arena.

“It’s an opportunity for us to see professional hockey players on the same ice where our son learned to skate on 20 years ago,” said Herm Lehman, who lives in Clinton with his wife, Nancy. “You get to see it come full circle. It’s very cool.”

The first period was scoreless, but fans saw four goals scored in the second.

Nelson netted the first goal of the game 1:13 into the middle frame for a 1-0 Buffalo edge. Columbus tied it with an Anthony Duclair power-play goal with 7:24 left in the second.

Buffalo fans got a sneak peak of the future when No. 1 overall pick Rasmus Dahlin and Eichel each assisted on Reinhart’s power-play goal with 5:32 left in the second, receiving enormous cheers from the local crowd.

Former Utica Comet Adam Clendening responded with a Columbus goal to tie Buffalo at 2 entering the second intermission.

Power-play goals by Artemi Panarin and Kevin Stenlund stretched Columbus’ lead to 4-2 in the third period.

Both teams received standing ovations when the final buzzer sounded at the Clinton Arena. Fireworks at Clinton Elementary School soon followed to end the night, and the village’s four-day long Hockeyville celebration.

“I just want to thank the Clinton community for putting on a great show here,” Housley said. “It was a great atmosphere. I loved being a part of the Kraft Hockeyville game.”

Contact reporter Marquel Slaughter at 315-792-4963 or follow him on Twitter (@OD_Slaughter).