Detroit Red Wings
2015-16 Ticket Plans Available Follow @DetroitRedWings on Twitter! Follow the Red Wings on Facebook! Follow @DetroitRedWings on Instagram! Follow OfficialDRW on Snapchat! Get Red Wings Email Updates Get Red Wings Text Updates Get the Detroit Red Wings Official Mobile App

  • RSS

Cleary's second chance a boon for Red Wings

Wednesday, 05.20.2009 / 4:34 PM ET / Features
By Larry Wigge  - Columnist
Share with your Friends

Cleary\'s second chance a boon for Red Wings
CHICAGO – Dan Cleary often gets that impish crooked smile on his face when questions are coming at him faster than opposing defensemen.

And there is plenty of reason for the media to seek him out these days.

Cleary continues to find the headlines for the Red Wings in this playoff year. He scored the game-winning goal in Detroit's Game 7 triumph against Anaheim in the Western Conference semifinals. Then he added two more goals in a Game 1 triumph against Chicago in the Conference finals, before he chipped in with a fourth goal in three games that helped the Red Wings beat the Blackhawks 3-2 in overtime in Game 2.

Cleary's eyes are not "fire on ice" like a Mark Messier. They are sympathetic and competitive -- those of a battler. Dan is one of those unsung warriors that always seems to be there at the most crucial times. He's smart. He's only 6-foot, 210 pounds, but plays like a power forward who is four inches taller and 20 pounds heavier. In other words, he can be a handful in and around the opponents net.

"Just when you think something's going to happen, just the opposite happens in games like this," Cleary said. "Each shift can be the shift. You never know.

"I feel confident in saying that I feel more comfortable in the moment with everything on the line. I know what to expect. I know what it takes. I know how hard it gets when the game is on the line. When I look back on each step it took to get here, I know very well how tough it is to make it here ... and to stay here."

Looking back on his 12-year journey and third straight trip to the Western Conference finals, Dan Cleary could sound satisfied. But he wants more. More success. More winning after being let go in his first three NHL stops in Chicago, Edmonton and Phoenix.

For many, this could easily have turned into one of those biting the hand that once fed you stories with Dan facing Chicago, the team that picked him in the first round, 13th overall, in the 1997 Entry Draft. But ...

"That was eons ago. I wasn't ready to be in the NHL at that age and that time," Cleary said. "I have no axe to grind with the

At the time, Cleary was a young kid with the game at his feet. He got by in Brantford of the Ontario Hockey League on skill and speed. But that next step to the NHL brings on more responsibility and that's something some youngsters are not ready to work hard enough to earn.

Cleary spent two years, 41 NHL games, in Chicago before he was traded to Edmonton. After four seasons there, Phoenix became his next stop. And that's where reality set in.

"I came back from Mora in Sweden during the lockout and the Coyotes let me know that the last year of my contract with them had run out," Cleary remembered. "I was at kind of a crossroads in my life. I was out of a job ... and I didn't know if that meant hockey was over or not."

In June 2004, Dan married his sweetheart, Jelena, who quickly became his positive influence on life. He was out of work, with the
responsibility of providing for a new wife, and a lot was going on in his mind.

"I began to realize what people say when their back is against the wall with no place to turn to," Cleary said. "I had no idea what might happen. I had thoughts of what I might do if hockey was over. But Jelena told me to put my most positive foot forward. Give it my best."

It also didn't hurt that while working out in California with defensemen Mathieu Schneider and Chris Chelios in the summer of 2005, those two put in a good word with him Red Wings and he got a tryout.

But there were no promises. Cleary would have to earn a contract.
I started out on the fourth line with Johan Franzen and Mikael Samuelsson. We were all just role players then. Heck, we're all still role players. But there's nothing holding any of us back ... if we can prove we can play a better role. - Dan Cleary
"I remember that I was just trying to fit in," he recalled. "I started out on the fourth line with Johan Franzen and Mikael Samuelsson. We were all just role players then. Heck, we're all still role players. But there's nothing holding any of us back ... if we can prove we can play a better role.

"The way it works here is that good players get better and great players get greater. That's what happens when you're surrounded by good players. It just brings out the best in you and everyone blends right in.

"And there's more to your role. You don't have to worry about scoring ... just play your game. If you play a good two-way game, the offense will come. You just have to prepare to work hard to fit in here.

"I'm not kidding when I say coming to Detroit is the best second chance I could have gotten."

Detroit Red Wings Playoff GearRed Wings coach Mike Babcock used Cleary on a checking line at first, but in 2006-07, knowing that he would no longer have the benefit of the kind of offense that captain Steve Yzerman and power forward Brendan Shanahan had provided for so many years, Babcock noticed some of Dan's offensive skills coming through.

What a role reversal! He went from 3 goals and 12 assists in 77 games in his first season in Detroit to a career-high 20 goals and 40 points in 2006-07.

"Everything he's gotten since he came to Detroit in training camp before last season, he's earned," Babcock said. "What a great story of a guy looking for work and succeeding. He had no contract when he came here, but he never stopped working and hustling and was willing to do whatever we asked. A real team guy."

Cleary's work ethic put his foot in the door. Then he broke it down with his courage and grit, following that 20-goal season with 22 in 2007-08 and added another 14 goals and 26 assists this season. Career-highs in the playoffs are already in danger of being smashed after just 12 postseason games.

"Now he can flat-out do anything," Babcock said. "He's a big body. He's good with the puck. He's strong down low. He can match up well against the best players. He's good on the penalty kill."

Life for Cleary begins and ends in the impact zone, around the net and in the corners -- a job that comes with no tips, no clues, no warnings. It's notoriously unpredictable and precariously dangerous. There's no in-between for a player who chooses the high road through the impact zone.

And Dan is making the most of his opportunity ... as his 6 goals and plus-14 indicates through Detroit's first 12 playoff games.

Now the rest of the NHL can see Dan Cleary clearly for the type of hard-working, no-nonsense producer he has become.




1 p - NYR 82 53 22 7 248 187 113
2 y - MTL 82 50 22 10 214 184 110
3 x - TBL 82 50 24 8 259 206 108
4 x - WSH 82 45 26 11 237 199 101
5 x - NYI 82 47 28 7 245 224 101
6 x - DET 82 43 25 14 231 211 100
7 x - OTT 82 43 26 13 232 208 99
8 x - PIT 82 43 27 12 217 204 98
9 BOS 82 41 27 14 209 201 96
10 FLA 82 38 29 15 198 213 91
11 CBJ 82 42 35 5 227 248 89
12 PHI 82 33 31 18 212 223 84
13 NJD 82 32 36 14 176 209 78
14 CAR 82 30 41 11 183 219 71
15 TOR 82 30 44 8 206 257 68
16 BUF 82 23 51 8 153 269 54


H. Zetterberg 77 17 49 -6 66
P. Datsyuk 63 26 39 12 65
T. Tatar 82 29 27 6 56
G. Nyquist 82 27 27 -11 54
J. Abdelkader 71 23 21 3 44
N. Kronwall 80 9 35 -4 44
R. Sheahan 79 13 23 -3 36
D. Helm 75 15 18 7 33
D. DeKeyser 80 2 29 11 31
S. Weiss 52 9 16 -2 25
J. Howard 23 13 11 .910 2.44
P. Mrazek 16 9 2 .918 2.38 is the official Web site of the Detroit Red Wings. Detroit Red Wings and are trademarks of the Detroit Red Wings. NHL, the NHL Shield and the word mark NHL Winter Classic are registered trademarks and Original Six is a trademark of the National Hockey League. All NHL logos and marks and NHL team logos and marks as well as all other proprietary materials depicted herein are the property of the NHL and the respective NHL teams and may not be reproduced without the prior written consent of NHL Enterprises, L.P. Copyright © 1999-2015 Detroit Red Wings and the National Hockey League. All Rights Reserved.
© NHL 2015. All Rights Reserved.

Advertise/SponsorshipsOlympia Entertainment | Code of Conduct | Privacy Policy | AdChoices | Employment | Contact Us | Terms of Use | Site Map