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Cleary feels like he belongs with Team Canada

Thursday, 08.27.2009 / 10:35 AM / All-Access Vancouver

By Dan Rosen - NHL.com Senior Writer

"I have played against all these guys, went head-to-head with all these guys, checked them and had lots of battles with them. I feel comfortable. I don't feel any pressure. These other guys have way more pressure than me."
-- Dan Cleary

CALGARY -- The question wasn't intended to offend Detroit Red Wings winger Dan Cleary, and it didn't, but it's also one that just couldn't be sugarcoated.

"Why are you here?"

A lot of people in Canada are asking themselves that same question about Cleary these days.
Marc Savard scored 88 points this past season and he's not in Calgary this week. Mike Cammalleri had 39 goals, but didn't receive any invitation. Mike Ribeiro, Brad Boyes, Steven Stamkos are all worthy candidates that didn't make the cut.

Yet, on the ice skating with Patrick Marleau and Vinny Lecavalier Wednesday was Cleary, a guy who finished 87th among Canadians with 40 points this past season.

"I just think I have earned the right to be here based on my play the last few years in the playoffs and the regular season," Cleary told NHL.com. "I think I'm good at both ends of the ice. I have played on top lines and I think I had a good playoff this year, a good run. I have good experience of being in critical situations. With our team in Detroit I play in every situation. I play in the last minute of the power play and penalty kill. I feel I deserve to be here."

He's right.

Cleary is here because he represents the vision Steve Yzerman and Mike Babcock have for their role players on Team Canada at the 2010 Olympics. Whether that means he makes the final cut remains to be seen, but this much we do know: Cleary is not here because Yzerman and Babcock wanted a familiar face in Calgary.

"It's just that he's a good hockey player," Babcock said. "Just look at the playoffs and the amount of scoring he does, the way he plays with and without the puck. He's just a real smart hockey player and he gets things done. He's a very usable guy whether it's on the power play in front of the net, in a checking role, physical on the forecheck, in his own zone or on the penalty kill. He's a good player."

Cleary said Babcock, Yzerman and Detroit GM Ken Holland, Yzerman's associate with Team Canada, have never said anything to him about his chances of making it to this week's orientation camp.
"Never, never, never," he confirmed.

To that end, there was no reason for him to even think about being here until he got the invitation. Still, before he even arrived, Cleary, who says his confidence has never been as high as it is right now, knew he wouldn't feel out of place.

He doesn't.

"I have played against all these guys, went head-to-head with all these guys, checked them and had lots of battles with them," he said. "I feel comfortable. I don't feel any pressure. These other guys have way more pressure than me."

Cleary, who believes he's "the most comfortable guy in camp," has an advantage over every other Canadian skater because he knows Babcock's coaching style and his systems. The coach is also comfortable in putting Cleary in all situations.

Babcock proved that this past postseason when he had Cleary, who had 15 points in 23 playoff games, in the Wings' top six and skating a lot with Henrik Zetterberg and Pavel Datsyuk, two guys Cleary said would be the best players in Canada's orientation camp this week.

With Marian Hossa, Jiri Hudler and Mikael Samuelsson all skating elsewhere now, Cleary will see more ice time in the top six this coming season. It should only increase his scoring, his exposure and his chances of making this team.

After all, he's certainly one guy who can't make an impression this week. The powers that be already know too much about him as it is.

"They want guys not to be on the fourth line just to check, but to be on the fourth line and be great checkers with the ability to burn you offensively," Cleary said. "I think I can create offense given the chance and I'll have a good chance this year. We'll see what happens."

Whatever does happen, Cleary isn't going to fret too much. Like he said, the pressure is off. All he can do is play his way, which, by the way, is what got him here.

"That's exactly my mindset," Cleary said. "If it happens it happens, but you see, I know what I have to do to make the team. I'm going to focus on those areas and hopefully that's enough. If it's not, I will know I gave it all I can give."

Contact Dan Rosen at drosen@nhl.com