It’s that time of year for hockey, something that has happened around here since 1918 when Coach Ira A. Prettyman arrived at Hamilton College and introduced the sport.
The Clinton Arena and Sage Rink bustle between October and April each season hosting youth hockey, college hockey, and high school hockey. One facet missing now is semi-pro hockey, long dominated by the Clinton Comets.
The name Comets was picked in a contest run by the Clinton Civic Group in February 1949 when the first Clinton Arena was dedicated. This team played in the New York-Ontario League from 1951 to 1954 and then in the Eastern Hockey League between 1954 and 1973.
During that time the venerable and beloved Comets won five League championships and received the Walker Cup in 1958, 1964, 1968, 1969, and 1970.
Saturday nights were “Hockey Night in Clinton” during those thrilling years when the Comets dominated the EHL. Over 2500 fans jammed the arena filling all seats and sometimes standing 2-3 deep around the catwalk.
Cheering for the Comets and jeering for the opponents became normal. The rink was rocking and cars were parked on village streets such as Utica and Mulberry.
Fights often broke out and sometimes chairs landed on the ice. This was exciting hockey in which the fans were a big part of the game. One referee and two linesmen tried to keep control.
Clinton had Wren Blair as general manager and Pat Kelly as coach in the late 1970’s. The high-scoring line of Borden Smith, Jack Kane, and Bill Bannerman provided much of the offensive punch for the Comets while Ian Anderson steadied the defense.
Sadly, the Clinton Comets left Clinton for the Utica Auditorium in 1973 under new ownership and became a team in the North American Hockey League using the name, Mohawk Valley Comets.
Since then semi-pro hockey has had its ups and downs as some years there was no team and in other years a team played for a few months and then closed due to poor finances.
Perhaps the most successful period was when the Jersey Devils franchise, the Utica Devils, played at the Auditorium between 1987 and 1993. Since then we’ve had the Utica Blizzards, the Utica Bulldogs, the Mohawk Valley Prowlers, the Mohawk Valley Stars, the Utica Mohawks, and the Mohawk Valley Comets(again) in 2003-04.
This fall (2006) it was announced that hockey historian and writer Jim Mancuso would manage the Mohawk Valley IceCats in the North Eastern Hockey League. As of December no games have been played.
Actually, college hockey has taken hold here with Hamilton College, Utica College, and Mohawk Valley Community College all fielding teams. Over 2000 fans sometimes watch at the Utica Auditorium. Doubts exist as to whether or not this area can support professional hockey given the record since 1973.
Information in this article is as correct and factually accurate as possible. If you notice a fact that you believe is incorrect, please let us know. Comments are always welcome.