Saturday, November 13, 2010

EHL Roadtrip 2010 - Day 1 (Part 3) - Clinton Arena

Clinton Arena was the arena I was most looking forward to visiting. On Google Maps, the arena looks like it is a mile or two out of town, but it's actually just two blocks from the town square. It's an easy stroll with no snow on the ground. There is a small parking lot on the side of the arena.

Every picture I have ever seen of Clinton Arena, the weather is gloomy (welcome to central New York) and often icy to boot. I was hoping to change that. The weather was changing rapidly on this day. As I came to each arena that day, the changes seemed to get more dark and drastic, but then suddenly lighten up as I approached. I had hope for a sunny shot of Clinton Arena.

The online skating schedule for Clinton Arena hadn't shown anything for Friday afternoon or evening. I was expecting to drive by the arena, check the location, maybe take a couple of outdoor shots, and anything else was gravy. I pulled into the almost empty parking lot and voila, the sun was out. Unfortunately, it was due-right of the front of the arena. So, the side was lit, but not the front.

To the untrained eye, the Clinton Arena structure itself may look as aesthetically pleasing as a bowling alley. But this is easily overlooked if one remembers that the previous wooden arena was burnt to the ground. As the Three Little Pigs discovered in their own way, a working cinder block house is more beautiful than a house of sticks that has been huffed and puffed and burned down. Clinton Arena was rebuilt in four months in 1953 for January 1954. That's four months from total scratch to playing. Put this in contrast to Tom Lockhart's Long Island Arena, started about the same time and opened, though not totally finished, five years later in 1959. The NY Rovers failed to re-enter the league at least three times in that timeframe because the arena was not ready. The Clinton Arena is still bustling with activity, while the Long Island Arena was knocked down 15 years ago and apparently outlived its usefulness long before that. The people in Clinton are nothing if not passionate about their hockey. In case you're wondering, the Clinton Arena was re-built before the idea of the Comets playing in the EHL had as of yet occurred, so there's no direct connection between the two.

I could only back up across the street so far because about 40 school buses filled the parking lot. So, it was difficult to get a good shot of the top of the arena, or the whole width of it. It was about this point that I was kicking myself for not bringing my camera. I have an original Canon EOS from back in the 80s, with some useful lenses, but in the digital age, it's been relegated to the closet. I had merely grabbed "our" new digital camera, which my wife uses constantly, and I'd scarcely seen, much less used.

After the sun went behind a heavy bank of clouds, I decided to see if I could go inside. I went in the front door into the entrance hall, which was vacant, and walked straight back past it. A hallway goes left and right from there, and has about 10 doors of locker rooms and such off of it. A couple of moms were there sitting on a bench. I said "hi", and so did one of them, as if it was no surprise for me to be there. Not taking any chances, I exited out and up the stairway back in the entranceway.

Upstairs you can look out on the arena through the glass. The Zamboni was out on the ice and the arena was dark. I was all alone upstairs. It was dimly lit from the few arena lights that were on. I turned around and on the opposing wall was a display for each year of the Clinton Comets (except 1972-73 strangely), including team photos, stats, articles and pictures mostly taken from game programs. The next hour or two all time was lost to me. The constant repeat of a start of a song told me that someone was practicing their figure skating routine out on the ice behind me. (The Clinton Figure Skating Club dates back to the original Clinton Arena in 1949.) I could hear running around the arena by a couple of figure skaters in training. But, I was engrossed in Comets history.

Left: Clippings and part of a jersey from the fire that destroyed the original Clinton Arena.
There was a display board like this for each Comets year.
A figure skater was just as surprised to see me as I was to see her when she jogged into the room. We smiled and nodded. Shortly thereafter I was horrified to see my camera battery was low. I suddenly had urgency to get back on my way. I would be back here at the Clinton Arena tomorrow to watch some hockey and maybe even somehow take a lap around the rink.

When I stepped outside it was heavily overcast, but all the schoolbuses were gone. I went across the road and got a couple of quick longer angle shots. As I got into the van to leave, the sun suddenly appeared. I jumped out and as I got past the corner of the building got off one quick sunny shot of the front of the building. That soon the sun was back behind thick clouds.

I hit the road to figure out how I was going to take pictures at the two Syracuse arenas. I had a battery recharger with me, but no place to plug it in. I had about an hour to go before I got to the hotel in Syracuse. There just wouldn't be time to recharge the battery and get to the NY State Fairgounds Coliseum before dinner and the game. I knew finding a camera shop to get a battery on the way would be plain dumb luck. As I stayed on Route 5 West I have rarely been so glad to find a Wal-Mart in the middle of nowhere. $30 later I came away with a DC to AC converter for the cigarette lighter, and now the battery charger could be plugged in. But would it be enough charge to last through both Syracuse arenas?

Canastota NY, which was my quickest passage from Route 5 back up to the NY Thruway, is home to the International Boxing Hall-of-Fame. I didn't realize this until I was there. Carmen Basilio, welterweight and middleweight champion of the world, was from Canastota, as was his nephew Billy Backus, also a welterweight champ. Graziano's Restaurant is right there, although I understand that it is Tony Graziano who managed Carmen Basilio, and not Rocky Graziano. While I'm not a boxing fan in particular, I certainly would have planned it into the trip.

I am, however, a soccer fan. Unfortunately, the US Soccer Hall of Fame in Oneonta, NY closed its doors earlier this summer. You soccer fans will remember back in the 70s and 80s when tiny Hartwick College in Oneonta was a major soccer power, even winning the NCAA Div I championship in 1977.

The Baseball Hall of Fame in Cooperstown is about an hour southeast of either Utica or Clinton.

Back on the NY Thruway, I was excited to see my first game in an EHL arena other than Cherry Hill Arena. Any camera concerns were offset by the fresh memories of Utica and Clinton. On to Syracuse...

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