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Daniel Cleary becomes first Newfoundlander to win the Stanley Cup

NHL.com @NHL

PITTSBURGH - It took more than 100 years for a Newfoundlander to win the Stanley Cup so the Detroit Red Wings weren't going to make Daniel Cleary wait very long before letting him hoist the trophy.

Captain Nicklas Lidstrom first handed the Cup to Dallas Drake before Cleary got his long-awaited moment with the trophy on Wednesday night. Teammate Kris Draper insisted that he be one of the first to lift it.

"I didn't know what was going to happen," said Cleary. "Drapes makes the call. It was awesome."

He's talked openly about wanting to become the first Newfoundlander ever to have his name engraved on the trophy and that wish will now come true. The 29-year-old will get to bring the Stanley Cup back to his hometown of Harbour Grace, N.L., when he gets his day with it this summer.

With so many people rooting for Cleary back home, he really felt the pressure as the Wings got closer to the championship. That was instantly released in the moments after Detroit's 3-2 series-clinching victory over the Pittsburgh Penguins.

"It was like everything lifted off my shoulders," said Cleary. "It was a huge weight. I looked up there because I knew that's where my family was.

"We did it. We did it. We finally did it."

It was a victory he's happy to share with the people back in Harbour Grace.

The small town overlooking Conception Bay has been swept up in Red Wings fever during these playoffs, with red flags, signs and decals bearing the team's logo popping up everywhere.

The frenzy can all be credited to Cleary, a former junior hockey standout who has made good on hockey's biggest stage.

"As Newfoundlanders, we have to fight for every inch of everything that we get," Don Coombs, the mayor of Harbour Grace, said last week. "Danny Cleary has taken that character and that personality of our province and made it work for him."

Less than 30 people from the province have ever played an NHL game and only two had ever before appeared in the Stanley Cup final - Keith Brown and Alex Faulkner, the first Newfoundlander to make it to the big league.

Brown's 1992 Chicago Blackhawks and Faulkner's 1963 and '64 Detroit Red Wings each lost in the final.

While the Red Wings celebrated around him at Mellon Arena, Cleary had a message to pass along for Faulkner - "Alex, we did it."

He's taken quite a road since leaving Newfoundland at age 14 to pursue his dream of playing in the NHL. After stops in Chicago, Edmonton and Phoenix, he didn't have any contract offers when the lockout ended in 2005.

"It was tough mentally," said Cleary. "I don't know if you've ever been through it but not having a job when you got a family to support, it's not easy."

He only came to Detroit's training camp that year on a tryout.

Cleary made the team and has turned himself into an effective player for the Red Wings. He believes it never would have happened without the support of his wife Jelena.

"It's almost like she willed me to make the team," he said.

That explains why he started crying after embracing Jelena and his young daughter.

The winger scored 20 goals each of the past two seasons and would easily have eclipsed that mark this year if not for breaking his jaw in February and being sidelined for a month.

Cleary was not a star for Detroit during the post-season, although he did score a goal in the team's Game 1 victory over the Penguins and created several other chances throughout.

Details like that matter little now. The only important thing to Cleary is that he's won a championship that will finally put Newfoundland's stamp on the oldest trophy in professional sports.

"I remember watching the Stanley Cup celebrations back home at TV," said Cleary. "To finally be part of it is unbelievable.

"This is amazing."

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