Albert Prettyman moved to Central New York in 1917 to serve as Hamilton College’s Athletic Director. He started the Hamilton hockey program in 1918. The sport grew to have legendary status at Hamilton, as well as in the nearby Clinton area, at both the amateur and professional levels. He also coached the medal-winning 1936 USA Olympic hockey team. Thanks to Coach Prettyman, Hamilton College will play its 100th hockey season in 2017–2018 and, together with the nearby Village of Clinton, we are holding a centennial celebration entitled, “Thank You, Albert Prettyman” February 9–11, 2018.

The First Hockey at Hamilton College

A series of campus magazine articles in Hamilton Life followed Prettyman’s quest for hockey. In October 1917, it was announced that a rink would be created on the tennis court located between Hamilton’s Chemistry Building and Carnegie Dormitory. It would be 140×90 feet and feature electric lights. In making his pitch to the college, Prettyman suggested that the fans would take turns clearing the ice. The courts were first flooded after Thanksgiving in 1917, and 58 sections of 8×3-foot boards were ordered. The first skating took place on December 11, 1917, when an ice scraper was ordered.

In early February of the next year, 30 inches of snow fell. Temperatures dropped to 33 degrees below zero on College Hill just prior to the first game against Nichols School, held on February 9, 1918. Hamilton Life wrote, “Hamilton Loses First Rink Clash—Hamilton appeared on the ice for the first time Saturday afternoon, when the local seven lined up against the fast Nichols School of Buffalo, for three periods of close fighting, and lost by a score of 4-1.” The first-ever goal scorer for Hamilton was James B. White, Hamilton Class of 1919, while the first captain of a Hamilton hockey team was Richard M. Kaiser, Class of 1920.

The Indoor Sage Rink

Interest in hockey at Hamilton was intense and immediate. On January 18, 1921, Hamilton Life wrote that Hamilton beat Cornell on their lake in front of 3,000 winter carnival fans, and went on to be undefeated that year (11-0), including the defeat of Army once, and nearby Colgate twice. In no small part due to the success of that team (pictured), interest in the game was widespread, and in 1922 the Russel Sage family donated funds for what is now the second-oldest covered collegiate hockey rink in the country—Hamilton’s Sage Rink. Sage’s opening game was on January 13th, 1922, when Hamilton beat Amherst and went on to have a 7-2 season.

Hockey Starts in the Village

Albert Prettyman’s young son Burt—and other Clinton boys—were fascinated by Hamilton College hockey. They began playing on the frozen canal in the Village using broken sticks pieced together after use at the College. Witnessing the enthusiasm, Coach Prettyman and fellow Clintonians Ed Stanley and Fred Goering worked together to open an outdoor rink in Clinton in the early 1920s, at the current location of the Calidonna family’s Clinton Tractor & Implement Co. In 1924, the first Clinton High School team was established, marking the beginning of more than 90 years of continuous league play. Many Clinton High School players went on to play at Hamilton where, by the 1940s, some six captains of Hamilton hockey teams were Clinton natives. Through the years, other Clinton High School players played at Dartmouth, Yale, Princeton, University of Vermont, Boston College, Brown, Williams, Oswego, Geneseo, and many other highly competitive programs.

National Amateur and Professional Hockey

In 1928, a local competitive team was established by Ed Stanley, a graduate of both Clinton High School (1924) and Hamilton College (1928). In 1933, Mr. Stanley’s Clinton Hockey Club played in the National Amateur Championship at Madison Square Garden against the Hershey Bears. This team would later attract Colgate’s player/coach Greg Batt as not only a superstar Clinton Hockey Club player, but also the ultimate successor to Prettyman as Hamilton’s second hockey coach. After Coach Prettyman’s son Burt played Clinton High School hockey, he played for his father’s Hamilton team, graduating in 1931. He then played on the Clinton Hockey Club, garnering the achievement of a “Prettyman Hat Trick”, a distinction reserved for participants at all three local hockey levels: Clinton High School, Hamilton College, and The Clinton Hockey Club/Comets. Others earning Prettyman Hat Tricks through the years were Gordon Hayes; and Bernie, Jim, Nick, Red, and Jim Burns—among others.

A Second Rink in Clinton

The interest in professional hockey (accelerated by Greg Batt’s stellar play) gave Ed Stanley and the local community the confidence to build the Clinton Arena, which opened with a glorious celebration in 1948. Although the rink burned and was replaced in 1953, the building cemented Clinton’s national reputation for hockey. Namely, it was the only small town in America with two indoor rinks, to say nothing of having two members on the Olympic Committee (Stanley and Prettyman), as well as competitive high school, college, and professional hockey programs. At the rink’s 1948 opening ceremony, the new Clinton Comets name replaced the old Clinton Hockey Club moniker. In 1954, the team affiliated with the Eastern Hockey league (EHL), whereupon the legendary status of the Comets commenced, attracting mostly Canadian professional players such as Pat Kelly, Benny Woit, Pete Babando, Norm Deflice, and Eddie Giacomin.

The Utica Comets, American Hockey League affiliate to the Vancouver Canucks, currently play to sellout crowds at the nearby Utica Memorial Auditorium, the model building used for building Madison Square Garden in New York City.

Prettyman Coaches 1936 USA Olympic Hockey Team, Defying Hitler in Person

In the 1920s and 30s, Coach Prettyman made a national name for himself as a serious student of the game of hockey. He founded the NCAA Hockey Rules committee in 1925, and was its chairman for 18 years. He served on three Olympic Committees. In recognition of his good works, Prettyman was named coach of the 1936 USA Olympic Hockey Team that played at Garmisch-Partenkirchen, Germany during the February preceding the famous Summer Olympics in Berlin. Just prior to leaving for Germany, he asked Francis Baker, his Hamilton College goalie, to accompany him as a back-up player. The New York Times noted that the two sailed for Germany on the good ship President Roosevelt on January 23rd, 1936, for the games which began on February 6th and lasted until February 16th of that year. The games were nearly boycotted in December of 1935 for obvious reasons, but they did proceed with participation by the United States, Canada, Germany, Czechoslovakia, Italy, England, France, Japan, Sweden, Switzerland, Austria, Poland, Hungary, Finland, Yugoslavia, Latvia, and Belgium. Notably, Russia boycotted.

Remarkably, both young Francis Baker and Prettyman had a provocative conversation with Adolf Hitler, who requested to meet with the team the night before the first game between the USA and Germany. Francis Baker, who studied German at Hamilton, handled a heated conversation with the Fuhrer. Apparently Hitler boasted that Germany would beat America in the first hockey game, causing Baker to courageously promise Hitler that, “We will not only beat Germany in hockey tomorrow, but America will always beat Germany!” Hitler left the meeting in a huff, and the US team beat Germany the next morning in a driving snow storm.

That was not the end of the Baker/Hitler story. Baker went on to finish his education at Hamilton, and later graduated from medical school. Eight fateful years after the 1936 Olympics, Baker participated in the invasion of Normandy as an Army medic treating US and Allied forces as they liberated France, thus doing his part to keep his personal pledge in Garmisch-Partenkirchen that “America would always beat Germany.”

Though Francis Baker never saw any ice time in the German games, he was awarded Hamilton’s only Olympic medal. England won the Gold medal at the 1936 Olympics, but there was some dispute, because so many of their players had dual Canadian and English citizenship. Canada won the silver medal, while America earned bronze. Hitler allowed only one Jewish person to play for Germany in those Winter Olympics—Rudy Ball—since he was Germany’s best hockey player.

Prettyman and Hamilton in the 1940s

After the Olympics, Prettyman returned to coach ten or more years at Hamilton. His 1943 season was notable not only because of Hamilton’s mediocre stats (5 wins, 4 losses), but also because it was likely the first year he encountered Gregory J. Batt, who as player-coach, led Colgate hockey to its only undefeated 11-0-0 season. That year, Batt scored a still-standing Colgate record-holding 52 goals and 36 assists. The next year, Prettyman coached Batt’s senior year at Colgate (11-1), but then returned to Hamilton. After earning a Purple Heart on Okinawa, Batt went on to be a star player for the Clinton Hockey Club/Clinton Comets, and in 1948 began a career of coaching at Hamilton which lasted until 1984.

The Ultimate Town/Gown Hockey Event

During the 1945-1946 season, Hamilton was having trouble fielding a team, since so many G.I.s had yet to return to campus. As evidence of this, a New York Times obituary dated April 24, 1946 cites the death of Captain Nelson C. Dale Jr., USMC, who died of wounds received while leading his unit during the second day of battle on Okinawa. The son of a Hamilton professor, Dale captained the Hamilton Hockey team in 1942. The lack of players at Hamilton led to talk of cancelling games, until Prettyman was convinced that Hamilton College should combine forces at Sage Rink with the players from Ed Stanley’s Clinton Hockey Club and take on all comers. At first, Prettyman refused to have his boys play with older “thugs” from the village, but he eventually agreed. The season concluded with a thrilling game against West Point, where a record-breaking 1,500 fans crammed into Sage to watch the “Town-Gown” Hamilton team beat Army 9-6. The combined team included numerous Hamilton players who were also Clinton natives, including Gordon Hayes; Red and Bernie Burns; and famous Clinton Hockey Club members Red Goering, Bob Williams, Art Scoones, and tough guy Ed Bates.

Prettyman left Hamilton in March of 1946. In announcing his departure, Hamilton President Worcester pointed out in the Clinton Courier dated March 7, 1946:

Just prior to the War, when many colleges were stepping up their physical education requirements to prepare students for military service, Hamilton, in great measure due to Mr. Prettyman’s farsightedness, found itself one of the few colleges to already require a full four years of physical education for all students.”

The Legend Continues

As if by providential recognition of Coach Prettyman, the Hamilton College men’s and women’s hockey teams racked up all-conference honors in March of 2017. On the men’s side, Coach Rob Haberbusch was named the New England Small College Athletic Conference Coach of the Year, and junior goalie Evan Buitenhuis took home the Player of the Year award. Hamilton’s men’s team went farther in the NCAA Division III tournament than ever this year, and was defeated by the team that went on to win the national title game. On the professional level, national hockey recognition continues, as a former player/coach of the Clinton Comets, Pat Kelly, won the coveted Lester Patrick Award in 2016.

The Prettyman Legacy

During his 29-year charge of Hamilton’s athletic department, Prettyman drove expansion of football, tennis, baseball, and track. He also created a 65-acre 9-hole golf course—and $400,000 swimming pool and gymnasium—but arguably his greatest and most lasting achievement was the introduction of hockey to College Hill in February 1918, a sport that continues at Hamilton and has positively, and substantially, infected the local area ever since. As we look toward a centennial celebration in February 2018, we take stock of all that Albert Prettyman is responsible for at Hamilton College and in the Clinton, New York area:

  • 100 years of Hamilton Hockey
  • 94 years of Clinton High School and Youth Hockey
  • The building of Sage Rink, The Clinton Arena, and the Utica Auditorium
  • The USA Bronze Medal (Coach) for 1936 Winter Olympics
  • Hamilton’s only Olympic medal winner, Francis Baker
  • 70 years of the Clinton Figure Skating Club
  • 35 years of Women’s Hockey at Hamilton and in Clinton
  • 45 years of professional Clinton Hockey/Clinton Hockey Club, and legendary Clinton Comets
  • 15 years of American Hockey League Play/Devils, and current Utica Comets, affiliate to the Vancouver Canucks
  • 16 years of Utica Pioneers Hockey
  • Countless local youth and high school programs in New Hartford, Rome, and Whitesboro, which sprung from Clinton
  • 10 area NHL participants

For all of that—and more—we simply cheer, “Thank You, Albert Prettyman”

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For more information, contact:
Andrew Burns Hamilton ’78; Clinton High School ’74andrewcburns@yahoo.com
Ted Molloy Hamilton ’78; Hamilton Hockey Captaine.molloy@cox.net.