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Notebook: Cleary welcomes visitors

by Dave Burke / Detroit Red Wings
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DETROIT – Sometimes there are hidden gems everywhere – you just have to dig a little harder.

This is the case with the Canadian province of Newfoundland and Labrador. It is a huge province at over 400,000 square miles – it would rank fourth largest if it were in the U.S. behind Alaska, Texas and California – but only a little over 500,000 people call it home.

One of those people is Red Wings forward Danny Cleary, one of only a couple of Newfoundland players in the NHL currently and only the second to win the Stanley Cup.

Friday morning, Cleary gave his 15-year-old cousin, Ben Cleary, and his high school hockey teammates, a special memory when the team traveled to southeastern Michigan for the Motown Cup Tournament Series this weekend.

The Gonzaga High School hockey team, from St. John’s, Newfoundland, watched the Wings’ morning skate and will watch Friday’s game at Joe Louis Arena when the Wings host the Edmonton Oilers.

It has already been a whirlwind experience for the Vikings’ team, which arrived in Detroit on Thursday.

“We got here yesterday at about 12 o’clock, just hung out around the hotel, it was a pretty cool experience just coming from Canada,” Ben Cleary said. “We flew from Newfoundland to Toronto and drove from Toronto to Detroit. So far the team has had a blast.

“It’s crazy, I’ve only been to one hockey game when we played in a tournament in Montreal and saw the Leafs play the Canadiens, but it’s unreal just being in Detroit for the first time. Then Danny gave us some passes to come on down.”

The timing of the tournament couldn’t have been better with the Wings being home, “Later on this tournament we’ll be playing on the Joe’s ice so it’s been fantastic.”

Some of the kids have never been to an NHL game like A.J. Caines, 16, who was a little surprised at the similar weather between his home and the Motor City.

“I’ve been to Florida and it was the only place I was in America and it was a really sunny state,” he said. “But when we got here it reminded me of St. John’s, the Newfoundland and Labrador capital.”

Danny Cleary knows it’s a special opportunity for the hometown kids to see a pro team up close.

“Yeah, Ben and a team from back home, it’s good to see the young kids,” Cleary said. “It’s probably their first time being at an NHL practice and seeing an NHL game.”

Not many Newfoundlanders before him have played in the NHL, but Cleary knows that the pride of being from there reverberates down to the kids.

“We’ve got a big province, land-wise, you know there’s only half a million people, but I think having only a couple guys in the NHL and with the kids growing up and looking up to you, it’s good to for the kids to come through Detroit and come to a practice,” Cleary said. “You never know, one of those guys could be a future NHLer.  That’s what you always hope for.”

What does Cleary remember about being their age?

“Well, I wished I had an opportunity like they have, but when you’re younger, the NHL is always the pinnacle,” he said. “You grow up watching it and admiring it and hope one day you can get there. Fortunately for me, I was able to get here and you hope those kids have the same dreams.”

JANIK READY, BUT RETURNED: Defenseman Doug Janik participated in Friday’s morning skate, but was sent back to Grand Rapids shortly afterwards.

Brad Stuart, who tweaked an ankle in the Red Wings’ 2-1 loss to Los Angeles on Wednesday, will play Friday.

The Wings know what Janik brings to the table when called upon, something that could happen come playoff time.

“Just try to be solid back there defensively,” he said. “I’m not going to contribute a ton offensively, but if I can maybe play good in my own end, kill penalties, if I’m needed to, and just give solid minutes whenever I get back there of the blue line.”

DRAPER SCRATCHED: Veteran center Kris Draper is a healthy scratch for the Wings’ game against the Oilers.  Coach Mike Babcock spoke to Fox Sports Detroit’s John Keating, saying, “It’s not because he didn’t play well Wednesday, it’s because someone has to sit.”

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