TRAVERSE CITY – He’s put in the hard work, now it’s time to see how that pays off for Daniel Cleary’s on-ice productivity this season.
“Me personally, I’m healthier,” Cleary said. “It’s hard to play in the NHL if you’re not going full speed, all cylinders going. I feel that I’ve put myself in a good position to be as healthy as I can. Now I’ve just got to go out and put the work in and see how things go.”
Cleary hopes to bounce back from a problematic knee that led to the least productive season of his career since signing a free-agent contract with the Red Wings in October, 2005. He missed 29 games at the end of the regular season when he had an allergic reaction to an injected painkiller in one of his knees.
Cleary has had knee problems in the past, he even underwent off-season surgery two years ago to address concerns with two Baker’s cysts that had formed behind his left knee and caused other internal damage. He dealt with excruciating discomfort, even having fluid drained nearly every 10 days in the last half of 2011-12.
The injection last February was supposed to get Cleary through the remainder of the regular season and into the Stanley Cup playoffs. That didn’t happen.
“There’s a lot of things you guys don’t ever hear about or know,” Cleary said. “It was bothersome the whole summer last summer and then going into (last year’s) camp wasn’t where it needed to be. I paid the price for it.”
The price was high for Cleary, who managed only eight points in 52 regular-season games and he missed the playoffs.
This time around, Cleary dedicated himself to a new offseason routine meant to get stronger in hopes of preventing further knee problems. He spent much of the summer in metro Detroit working with former University of Michigan strength and conditioning coach Mike Barwis.
“Can’t say enough good things about him and what he’s done for me personally,” Cleary said. “It’s put me in a lot better position to move on the ice more freely and more pain free. To be honest with you, it’s a good feeling.”
Cleary is feeling better these days, both physically and mentally.
“It’s huge, that obstacle of getting through your mind that you can move out there freely, be able to skate normal, be quick,” he said. “That’s a good thing for me. Now we just got to be confident in our ability and go do it.”
Through three days of training camp at Centre ICE Arena, Cleary has been impressive and his knee hasn’t been an issue for him as he’s skated on a forward line with captain Henrik Zetterberg and forward Johan Franzen.
While it’s still early, coach Mike Babcock likes what he’s seen out of his 35-year-old veteran.
“He’s training really hard,” Babcock said. “He’s done everything he possibly can. Is his leg up to speed? I thought he looked good. Is his agility there? The same as everyone else: We’re going to watch him.”
And with a stockpile of young forwards in camp, Cleary has plenty to prove if he’s going to earn a roster spot during the exhibition games, which, for him begins Monday night in Pittsburgh.
“It’s good to keep the veterans on their toes,” Cleary said. “Training camp is always a great competition for ice time. You have to earn your ice time. You have to earn your keep around here. That’s the motto. That’s how it’s always been and this training camp is no different.
“Sometimes it’s just a matter of will.”