By Howard Balaban
A group of 13 more people with strong Lockport hockey backgrounds joined the Howell Motors Ford Hockey Hall of Fame Saturday night. The induction ceremony took place inside Cornerstone Arena, on the floor of one of the ice rinks.
"How appropriate is it that this ceremony is taking place in a rink named 'Kenan?'" asked Mike Landers as he opened up the formal festivities for the night. Landers, president of Howell Motors Ford, is the chairman of the Hall of Fame and spearheaded its creation. Indeed, many people in Lockport who have a love of hockey developed it while playing at the Kenan Center.
Tate Pitrello, a Hall of Fame committee member, found the evening's festivities to be a welcome site.
"Everyone you talk to here tonight is happy," he remarked. Pitrello was part of a quartet of local hockey guys who pushed for a rink renaissance in Lockport. Joined by John Ottaviano, Todd Sukdolak, and Henry Schmidt, they stuck together for nearly a decade to push for a new rink. Eventually they helped usher in the construction of Cornerstone Arena. Once it was built, it did not take long for Landers to start the effort for a Lockport Hall of Fame.
Among the new inductees on Saturday night were Christian DeFazio, Paul Bailey, Chris Hildreth, and Joel Darling, Tom Dockery, and Steve Allison. The coaches class featured Norman Phillips, Paul Pignataro, and Lou Rosetti Sr. Contributors inducted were John Jakubec, William "Ben" May, Richard Rybolt, and George "Bud" Timkey.
|Randy Schultz, Mike Robitaille, and Joel Darling|
"It's pretty neat to be inducted the same year as my coach," chuckled DeFazio, a Lockport Class of '86 graduate. "I know most of the guys here and it's really nice to see so many familiar faces."
Hildreth, a member of the Class of '89, called the induction a "great honor." He added that playing hockey, for him, was done more for love of the game than for any accolades.
"It's ice hockey; there's really nothing like it in the world," he explained. "You play injured, you play hurt...there's a big difference between hockey and other sports."
Bailey and DeFazio agreed.
"I never played for any awards," Bailey said. "It was more about the camaraderie, the fun of it."
"Hockey becomes part of you," DeFazio noted. "There's a kind of code of conduct when you're on the ice where you lay everything on the line, but you're still friends afterward."
Bailey, represented the Class of '78, said the uniqueness of the night was felt in another way.
|2017 Howell Motors Hockey Hall of Fame Inductees|
"I can't believe how old I am," he joked. He was quick to add, though, that when he is on the ice he still feels like he is 18. "On the ice, it's not as hard on the knees." He said he can still move pretty good whenever he plays, which he said was pretty often. DeFazio and Hildreth also said they get out to a rink when they can.
"Hockey doesn't leave you," DeFazio said.
Darling, part of Lockport's "royal family" of hockey, recalled how growing up in the canal city was a special blend of community spirit that is not often found in other places.
"Everybody knows everybody," he said. "It's a small community, and in the hockey community you were always looking up to the kids before you.
"It was a thrill to enjoy the game and the journey to get where they were," Darling continued. He added that most of his Lockport hockey memories "were of a great time at the rink with friends and mentors. In the end it was all about fun and not really the winning and losing."
As the night progressed, Master of Ceremonies Randy Schultz presided over the introduction of each Hall member as he was introduced. Some inductees were represented by family members. A hockey writer for parts of five different decades, Schultz's travels allowed him to make the following comment to open the evening: "I get around to a lot of arenas, and I can tell you that Cornerstone is a diamond in Niagara County. Lockport and Niagara County can be proud."
As the Hall of Fame is located within the confines of Cornerstone, Pitrello said he was hopeful to see it continue long after those who started it had departed. "Lockport is a hockey community," he said, listing off the many events and contests held when the Kenan Center was the place to be. "It took almost 30 years, but this is our rebirth," Pitrello said, referring to Cornerstone. "It was sad that kids had to go outside the community, but now we have our own rink."
And who knows? Perhaps some of the youngsters honing their skills on the ice at Cornerstone this year may find their names listed among those in the Howell Motors Ford Hockey Hall of Fame in the future.