CLINTON — Andrew Burns experienced Clinton Arena's "Hockeyville USA" win twofold Saturday.
Apparently, the news that Clinton Arena won Krafthockville.com's grand prize of $150,000 toward renovations and the chance to host an NHL preseason in the fall was aired during the Tampa Bay Lightning-New Jersey Devils NHL playoff game first — mere minutes before attendees of Clinton Arena's watch party watching the Colorado Avalanche-Nashville Predators game heard the announcement during the first intermission.
Burns' best friend, who was in Florida watching Tampa Bay play, called him with the breaking news before the local NBCSN channel aired the announcement. A few more congratulatory messages came through Burns' phone, further confirming the good news for his hometown rink.
Congrats to Clinton Arena on winning the#HockeyvilleUSA grand prize of $150,000 and an NHL preseason game in the fall.
You all did it. You should be proud.pic.twitter.com/vG86TQlJbd
"I went, 'We won!'" Burns, 61, recalled at Alteri's, the hockey-centric restaurant in the center of the village, where many people visited to celebrate later Saturday. "People started turning to me saying, 'What do you mean we won?' ... Then I was in a panic that maybe I was dreaming this whole thing. It was just so weird."
It was no dream.
The rink erupted with cheers of joy when the NBCSN broadcast said Clinton's name on the projector. Many people hugged and plenty of people cried before marching outside to partake in the victory parade, marching behind a fleet of fire trucks through the Village of Clinton.
"That kind of screaming — I haven't seen since the Clinton Comets days," said Burns, a Clinton Central and Hamilton College graduate who now lives in Chapel Hill, North Carolina. "This is one of the better moments in the history of the Clinton Arena, no question about it. People were crying. Men were crying — and these are men who are very tough — because they love their community.
"They're crying for their town. All of their friends have played in this arena. Their dads played."
Clinton Arena, which is approaching its 70th year of operation in a village celebrating 100 years of hockey, won the contest by receiving the most votes between midnight Thursday and 11 a.m. Saturday. Many people claimed to have voted hundreds of times.
Brandon Valley in Brandon, South Dakota, won the second-place prize of $30,000. Memorial Sports Center in Middlebury, Vermont, and George’s Pond at Hirsch Coliseum in Shreveport, Louisiana, each earned $10,000 in rink renovations.
The Utica Comets even lent a hand, encouraging fans to vote for Clinton Arena when they hosted the Syracuse Crunch on Friday night.
"What 'Hockeyville' did was galvanize what we already knew: This area is a huge hockey hotbed," said Comets owner Rob Esche. "It all originated right here in Clinton. I'm so honored to be part of this community and I'm very proud to be a hockey player in this community. ... From the Albert Prettymans to the Clinton Comets players on to the community at-large. I just think the world of it."
All of the four finalists received money, but only Clinton Arena will get the NHL preseason game. Derrick Jewell and Sean Schreppel, a pair of 11-year-old cousins, can't wait for the game.
"You get to go to an NHL game ... and it's local," said Jewell, who skates for Utica Junior Comets Elite. "I was kinda shocked. Out of all of the rinks in the whole country, it was this one that won."
"It's kinda crazy. I've never seen one before," said Schreppel, a member of the Clinton Comets Pee Wee house team who voted about 20 times. "It'll be cool to see one for the first time."
The entire Village of Clinton was flooded with hockey gear Saturday. Clinton Warriors hockey jerseys were all over the rink, as well as people with CNY Bobcats, Hamilton College and Clinton Comets gear.
Up to 700 people passed through Clinton Arena on Saturday, according to Mike Orsino, the Town of Kirkland Parks and Recreation official who oversees Clinton Arena and John G. Karin III Town Park. Orsino, who noted that much of the winnings will go toward fixing the roof, said over 7,200 arenas took part in the "Hockeyville USA" contest.
"When they announced it I was in tears — tears of joy," said Orsino, who couldn't give more praise to the locals, his staff, the local colleges, the Utica Comets and Kraft. "The longer they dragged it out I was like 'Oh no!' But like everyone else, I really didn't know. It's a great a day for Clinton, New York, the Mohawk Valley. ... Everybody."
"It's a hockey town," said Bob Meelan, supervisor of the Town of Kirkland, who said he voted 300 times. "When you bring something like this to a hockey town, the community rallies. It's just an unbelieveable community."
The watch party at Clinton Arena began at 11 a.m. Saturday. A memorial for the victims of the tragic Humboldt Broncos bus crash — including hockey sticks and photographs — filled a Clinton Arena hall near the front entrance.
Inside the rink, a Stanley Cup sculpture made of Kraft boxes on a table built from hockey sticks was on hand by the projection screen. Arts and crafts for children to color and build mini-cardboard Zambonis were also available, as well as space for volleyball and floor hockey.
On Thursday night, Burns, who helped organize the "Thank You Albert Prettyman" Clinton hockey centennial celebration in February, joined some friends at Alteri's to spark the voting process. A "Rock the Vote" party was even held Friday night at Clinton Arena and many people continued to vote through Saturday morning, celebrating the grand prize victory by parading the streets of downtown Clinton in the sub-50 degree temperatures.
Winning "Hockeyville USA" more than makes up for falling short in another hockey contest. Clinton Arena was a finalist in the Ephesus Light Like the Pros contest, losing out on an LED sports lighting system valued at more than $50,000 to Wisconsin’s Beaver Dam Family Center Ice Arena earlier this year.
Contact reporter Marquel Slaughter at 315-792-4963 or follow him on Twitter (@OD_Slaughter).