DETROIT – Daniel Cleary grew-up among 300 residents, in a tiny seaside community called Riverhead on the provincial island of Newfoundland in the Canadian Atlantic. It there, near Harbour Grace, where the first light of dawn in North America falls upon the rugged cliffs and long narrow inlets from the Atlantic Ocean.
Less than half a million people call Newfoundland, a.k.a. “The Rock” – for reasons obvious to those who visit – home. Despite being the site of the continent’s only authenticated Viking settlement, and possessing thousands of miles of pristine coastal and wilderness beauty, few outsiders visit, including pro hockey scouts.
The terrain on the island makes it a difficult place to get to, which is why Cleary is among a very small fraternity of players to emerge from there. He’s only the second such player to don a Red Wings’ uniform. (The first was center Alex Faulkner, who played two of his three NHL seasons during the 1960s in Detroit.) And fewer have been anointed Stanley Cup champions.
Two years ago, Michael Ryder – then with the Boston Bruins – returned triumphantly to his hometown on the Rock. But Cleary will forever be remembered as the first champion to bring the silver chalice to Newfoundland and Labrador, where rock star-status has been bestowed upon him for life.
Recently, Cleary sat down with DetroitRedWings.com’s Bill Roose to discuss what life’s like back home since winning the Cup, which included several amazing tributes. The provincial government even declared Cleary a role model for school children, while providing every school in the province with a framed limited-edition painting of the local hockey hero.
How special was it for you to become the first player from Newfoundland to get his name engraved on the Stanley Cup?
That was awesome. Obviously, there was a lot of build up going into the finals, especially before Game 6. I remember talking before the game with different people. I thought the whole entire province was behind us and behind me, so it was pretty neat to bring it home.
What was your ‘Wow’ moment when you returned to Harbour Grace with the Cup?
Maybe when we had the parade and how the streets in the whole town were lined with 30,000 people in a community that has 3,000 residents. It was really overwhelming.
After the Cup win, Greeley’s Reel recorded a hockey version of their song “Come In”, which includes the words, “when Danny Cleary brings the Stanley Cup to Newfoundland.” How did that make you feel?
I thought it was great. They actually played it at the ceremony in town. Obviously, it was humbling. It was a nice thing for them to do, but it was great for Newfoundland as well.
You started a hockey school back home a few summers ago in a town called Torbay, can you tell us about it?
Our first hockey school was in 2009, so this will be our fifth year. It’s great. We have approximately 250 kids. We have goalies where (Red Wings goalie coach) Jimmy Bedard comes down and works with them. It’s a great time. The kids receive a lot of different prizes and giveaways. We play a game with a bunch of other NHLers, so the kids love it.
You recently signed on to do a public service announcement to bring awareness to suicide prevention. Why did you pick this particular cause?
I know someone who has been through that so obviously you feel it’s important to get the message out there. Jordin Tootoo did it as well.
Is there a Daniel Cleary Foundation, perhaps, on the horizon?
I have my own scholarship back home that is endowed and it goes to Memorial University for student-athletes.
As a follow up, since it was on our list of questions, how satisfying was it for you to begin the Daniel Cleary Entrance Scholarship?
You know about it, eh? That’s one of the things that I’m most proud of actually, to be able to do that. We’re able to do that because we donated time with the Cup to different donors and all of the money went toward an endowment through Memorial University. Different student-athletes win it each year and I know that they’re great kids who work hard at their academics as well as their sports.
You didn’t attend college, so why a scholarship?
I thought it was a good thing to do and something that could last a lifetime, which I felt was important. I didn’t have the chance to go to university, but if I did it would have been great to receive something like that.
You’ve said before that you’re big on goal-setting. Can you share some that you have for this season?
I write down goals every year and look back on them. This year I wrote down, ‘Be the hardest working guy on the club; keep yourself fit; be focused with the short season; stay healthy.’ Then there are other personal goals that are separate from hockey.
A lot lately has been made about your first name in the media this season. So which is it – Dan, Danny or Daniel – and why?
That’s more of a family, mom-type issue. She likes Daniel. She’s tired of seeing Danny in print and hearing it on TV.
You’ve worn six different numbers with four different NHL clubs. Is there a story before your current number, No. 11?
No. My wife picked it out. She liked the fact that I’m No. 1, two times.
Who gave you the nickname Bear?
Tony Amonte. You know hockey players with our last names and how they ring for your nickname. With mine, he used to call me Clare Bear and it just got shortened to Bear.
Follow Bill Roose on Twitter | @Bill_Roose