That day, Riverhead native Daniel Cleary became the first hockey player from Newfoundland and Labrador to share the Stanley Cup with his hometown. Thousands came out to congratulate Cleary, with many travelling from other parts of the province to get a glimpse of what he helped the Detroit Red Wings earn that year.
Cleary’s career was thought to be a bust before he attended the Red Wings’ training camp in 2005. A skilled scorer as a junior player in the Ontario Hockey League, the Chicago Blackhawks drafted him in the first round of the 1997 NHL entry draft. However, success generally eluded him in the seasons he played prior to joining the Red Wings.
His career blossomed in Detroit. Cleary’s speed and willingness to continually pursue the puck fit in nicely with the Red Wings puck-possession style of play. Coach Mike Babcock was comfortable using him in every sort of situation imaginable. For the majority of his 10 seasons in Detroit, Cleary was an essential ingredient to the team’s success.
However, the 36-year-old has reached a point in his career where his continued usefulness to the team on the ice is in doubt. His last two seasons were slowed down by injuries, and even when Cleary was healthy, Babcock elected to turn to other, younger players instead of the aging veteran. He only appeared in 17 games last season and did not dress for any playoff games.
When he signed a one-year contract with the Red Wings for the 2013-14 season, it was widely reported he decided to stick with the team he knew best instead of accepting a three-year contract on the table elsewhere. It’s believed this was done with the understanding Detroit would continue to sign Cleary to one-year contracts until at least this coming season.
In light of his play the last two years, there are many Red Wings fans speaking out online about the need for Red Wings general manager Ken Holland to instead give young players a chance. The thought there is loyalty can only go so far.
Cleary has played almost 1,000 games in the NHL. His contracts have earned him millions of dollars. Taking into consideration how the Red Wings treated other veteran players over the last decade, the team would likely be more than happy to find a place for him within its organization.
Cleary though has said he still wants to play. Holland recently told reporters there’s a chance he could re-sign him.
If Cleary’s playing days are over, he should be proud of his accomplishments. He’s inspired countless young players back home and excelled through hard work and perseverance.
It’s obvious Cleary’s earned a great deal of respect from the Red Wings organization. Whether it’s on the ice or in the stands holding a clipboard as a scout, odds are the team will find a place for him next season.
Andrew Robinson is The Compass' editor. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
This story has been edited from an earlier published version to correct information.