CLINTON — No wonder Alteri’s was the go-to place to celebrate after Clinton Arena’s ‘Hockeyville USA’ grand-prize victory Saturday.
The Village of Clinton restaurant is a local hockey shrine. Pucks, plaques, posters and portraits are all over the walls and shelves, along with skates, jerseys, medals and other hockey memorabilia from the area.
For a village celebrating 100 years of hockey, home to about 2,000 people with a 69-year-old arena that beat out over 7,200 rinks for a grand prize $150,000 and a chance to host an NHL preseason game this fall, the scenery and atmosphere at Alteri’s was perfect.
"Look at this restaurant!" said Cindy Lopata, whose first date with her husband, Joe, was at the Clinton Arena 49 years ago. "Look at all the hockey stuff around here. Alteri’s resonates hockey."
"Can you believe this place — all of the old Comets and Hamilton College jerseys?" said Andrew Burns, who helped organize votes for ‘Hockeyville USA’ and coordinate the "Thank You, Albert Prettyman" centennial celebration in February.
Alteri’s, owned by former Clinton Central hockey star and coach Fran Alteri, opened in 1953 — coincidentally the same year as Clinton Arena’s reincarnation, when the village rebuilt the then four-year-old rink in just four months after a fire burned down the arena made mostly of wood.
The hockey-centric bar and restaurant was on the route of the fire truck-led victory parade, making for an ideal place to commemorate the occasion.
The ‘Hockeyville USA’ grand prize money will be put to good use — mainly on the Clinton Arena roof. The rink is home to close to 35 hockey teams, from youth leagues and high school to men’s teams, as well as figure skating clubs and public skating.
I witnessed the ‘Hockeyville USA’ announcement with many other locals shortly after 4 p.m. Saturday inside Clinton Arena — also known as the Edward W. Stanley Recreation Center. The rink erupted with applause, tears and hugs before gathering outside in the sub-50 degree temperatures for a parade, where people gathered on top of Zambonis and fire trucks, waving their signs at passers-by in vehicles honking their horns down Kirkland Avenue in observation of the good news before marching through the village.
By the time I arrived to Alteri’s before 5:30 p.m., the place was packed from the door to the bar to the dining area.
Duffy Burdick, a 1981 Clinton grad, suggested that I order a pizza. He voted on Krafthockeyville.com at least 350 times until his final attempt was disallowed at 11 a.m. Saturday, the designated cutoff. Burdick, his father, and his sons all played hockey in Clinton. He said the ‘Hockeyville USA’ win was one of the greatest feelings the community has had since the Clinton Central boys won the state championship in 2005.
"We’ve never suffered for the lack of terrific hockey talent in the area," said Burdick, who said the victims of the Humboldt Broncos bus crash were still in Clinton’s prayers.
Lopata, a 1969 Clinton graduate, was enjoying her Alteri’s visit as she reminisced about her father’s garage — Clinton Body Shop — that neighbored Clinton Arena, her sons and granddaughter who skated for Clinton, and her first date with her husband at a Clinton Comets game. Their 48th wedding anniversary is Wednesday.
"It’s incredible," Cindy Lopata said. "(Andrew) Burns really brought everything together."
Burns, a Clinton and Hamilton grad who now lives in Chapel Hill, North Carolina, showed me a photo of the original Clinton Arena from February 1949 on the Alteri’s wall between the bar and dining areas. He explained that the Clinton Comets were named that day, pointing to his father on the blue line beside his teammates.
Many people dining at Alteri’s thanked Burns, 61, for the instrumental role he played in gathering votes. Burns, in return, thanked everyone from Hamilton College and the Utica Comets to the Clinton Youth Hockey Association and many local non-profits for volunteering.
"We’re all one," Burns said. "Clinton is just a barn-raising hockey town."
Contact reporter Marquel Slaughter at 315-792-4963 or follow him on Twitter (@OD_Slaughter).