Clinton High School Hockey
Cataloguing more than nine decades of Clinton High School hockey is not easy. We have gleaned what we can from published reports, The Clinton Courier, yearbooks, and more. We will need the public’s input to fully document stories, pictures, and videos about hockey in Clinton, arguably America’s most enthusiastic small hockey town.
Hockey obviously swept Hamilton College off its skates in the 1919-1922 period, as demonstrated by successful early team records, and the college’s significant commitment to steer some $130,000 of a nearly $1,000,000 bequest (from industrialist Russell Sage’s widow) to build the Sage Rink in 1922, the nation’s oldest covered college rink. The nearby Village of Clinton shared in this enthusiasm.
Officially, the Clinton High School Hockey Team started with the 1925-26 season. Before that, an organization called the Clinton Amateur Hockey Association sponsored a high school-age team that engaged opponents in organized and informal competition. It was high school principal Ray Smith who, according to legend, inquired of his basketball team, why all the absenteeism? The answer was that members of his basketball team had been up at Sage Rink, defeating the Hamilton College Freshmen team at hockey. Smith, who barely knew any of the rudiments of the game of hockey, recognized a burgeoning dynasty when he saw one.
Smith had three lads of rare talent and determination: Bob Williams, Burt Prettyman, and Ed Bates. He shelved his basketball team and put his efforts toward the brand new Clinton Varsity Hockey Team. Smith had them wear their block C basketball shirts over their sweaters to represent the Clinton High School. The iconic first picture of the Clinton team, if you look closely, shows the majority of the team sporting the block C. Also note, they are photographed on the steps of the Marvin Street School in their skates, a practice that over time would become taboo. The Clinton Community Rink opened December 7th, 1926 with funding provided by the town fathers, inspired by Mayor Fred Goring.
That first high school team finished their season at 5-2, a strong start against a combination of high school, college, and collegiate alumni teams. The next season they tied their first game, and went undefeated thereafter. Considering the lack of organization statewide in hockey, they held the unofficial title of State Champs.
Coaches Ray Smith and Bob Williams carried the team through the early 40s, after which Norm Parkhurst kept the team together during the difficult years of WWII. The war threw a wrench in the Village’s plans to build an indoor rink; until then, teams were still at the mercy of Mother Nature as far as ice was concerned. Even Hamilton’s Sage Rink would not install refrigeration until the mid 50s. The outdoor Community Rink was susceptible to warm weather, and the war years hurt the budget.
Building a House
Since the tiny Village of Clinton had a huge interest in hockey, and in classic Americana-barn-raising fashion, villagers decided to put their efforts behind the building of an indoor rink in the late 1940s. All of the rink’s $35,000 price tag—an enormous sum at the time—was raised locally. Many of the materials and much of the labor was donated. Soon after, another $50,000 was raised for nine miles of piping needed for artificial ice. By 1948, Clinton had not only developed serious youth, midget, high school, and even professional hockey programs, but finally, had their own indoor arena.
In a speech to the Utica Exchange in 1949, Clintonian (‘42) and Hamiltonian (‘46) Nicholas K. Burns said:
”The rink was being built to a great extent by volunteer labor. Village plumbers, electricians, carpenters, painters, and telephone men were working two and three hours every night. The school kids carried lumber and kept the working spaces free from loose nails and old boards. Almost everyone in the village could say that the completed rink was his, since he had either donated money, worked on fundraising, or actually worked on construction, or, in many cases, all three.”
The first rink opened in February 1949, but sadly burned to the ground on September 11th, 1953. Remarkably, the citizens set themselves to the task again, and had the current rink built in an astounding four months from the day of the fire. To be the only small town in America with two indoor rinks (Sage and Clinton Arena)—and to have to build one of them twice—is truly astounding, and testimony to the commitment and resilience of the hockey fan base.
From this strong beginning, all of Clinton’s programs thrived for decades. Over the years, many players and coaches contributed to the legendary Clinton High School hockey program. They included standout players in high school, college, professional teams, and U.S. National teams, as well as eventual careers in coaching.
In the early years, Coach Ray Smith sought to challenge anyone in the state, taking his teams far and wide to secure many victories. Former player Bob Williams coached the team through the 1940s, putting up impressive numbers for his entire reign. Along with Ed Stanley and Albert Prettyman, these “founding fathers” created a strong legacy that would last for generations, passing the torch to coaching giants like Bernie Burns.
During those years, a number of standout players made names for themselves and their teams (and went on to coach). Like Bernie Burns, who eventually played for Hamilton and the Clinton Comets, Bob Williams (yes, that Bob Williams), and Mike Nardello. Just a small sample of the standout players:
Paul Shilling, CCS ‘66, who later played for Boston College and the U.S. National Team, and coached both Babson and Brown.
Gil Goering, CCS ‘61 and grandson Fred Goering (who froze over Clinton’s outdoor rinks) was an excellent player at Brown after Clinton.
Tim Suppe, CCS ‘63 was a fine player who went on to coach highly successful Clinton high school teams.
Though there are too many to list in this summary, Clinton High School greats also include Mike Karen, Rick Burns, Jim Rishel, Steve Eckerson, Greg Batt Jr., Joe, Tom, and Bill Hameline, Nat Heintz, Robby Olsen, Brian Hannon, Danny Kane, and many, many others, who will be featured as we more fully develop the site.
On the professional front, Clinton players with distinctive careers include Ted Fauss, Clinton ‘79, who played defense for the Toronto Maple Leafs, and is a current assistant coach of Hamilton’s hockey team. Dave Litz, Clinton ‘82, captained the Clinton High School team and went on to play at the professional level in the ACHL and ECHL. Dave returned to Clinton to coach the high school team. Nick Palmieri played on Clinton’s high school team as an eighth and ninth grader, before heading to a professional career with the Erie Otters and, ultimately, scoring goals with the New Jersey Devils. Nick currently plays in Europe.
Though our timeline includes details of many players, coaches, and teams, we still need your stories, accounts, statistics, and photos for much of that history. Please share them with us. We look forward to including your stories from your years as a Clinton hockey player or fan!