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Dan Cleary is making mark in Motown

Thursday, 04.19.2007 / 12:00 AM ET / News
Detroit Red Wings
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Dan Cleary is making mark in Motown
By The Canadian Press
CALGARY, Alberta -- Mike Babcock would like to take credit for Daniel Cleary, the Red Wings' successful reclamation project.

But the Wings coach says time and Cleary's own realization his NHL career was on life support morphed the former junior scoring machine into an impact player of the defensive kind for Detroit.

Clery has been a big contributor in the playoffs.
"When you're the coach you always think it was something magic you did, but what the reality is, it was the time in his life when he was mature enough and ready for something good to happen and maybe frustrated enough with what he had let get away," Babcock said.

Cleary was a junior star, a 50-goal scorer with the OHL's Belleville Bulls in 1995-96 and a first-round draft pick of the Chicago Blackhawks a year later.

Few scoring trophy winners in junior can carry that momentum immediately into the NHL, but eight years into his professional career, Cleary was showing no signs of becoming the offensive threat many predicted he would be.

Traded by Chicago, released after four seasons in Edmonton, one unremarkable season in Phoenix, Cleary made the Wings roster as a walk-on to start the 2005-06 season and he was re-signed to a two-year contract last summer.

This has been the breakout season for the 28-year-old from Carbonear, N.L.

He's put up the best numbers of his career with 20 goals and 20 assists in 71 games, but it's his play on the other side of the puck that has helped him find his niche with the Wings.

"All the hockey pundits throughout Canada and the U.S. pegged me as a sure-fire NHLer and an offensive one at that," Cleary said. "It's funny how things work out, but I believe for me, if I didn't work on the defensive side of my game I don't know if I'd be here.

" think my offence is coming through my defence. It's weird. I just try and be good away from the puck and in the right position defensively. Turnovers and creating offence from that has helped me, and playing with good players."

Cleary spoke through stitched lips Thursday prior to Game 4 of Detroit's Western Conference quarterfinal series against the Calgary Flames. The sewing was courtesy of a high stick from Flames forward Wayne Primeau in Game 3 on Tuesday.

Detroit lost that game but Cleary generated a memorable play when he decked Flames strongman Dion Phaneuf into the corner, recovered the puck behind the goal-line and set up Kris Draper for a temporary go-ahead goal, all on the same play.

Cleary had two assists that night and was among the leaders on the Wings in hits in the series.

"He's got offensive skill, but he's also 210 pounds and he can really finish checks and really hang onto the puck and can play on our power play," Babcock said. "He's just a good usable player.

"It's a man's league. You get these kids, there are few guys who can make an impact like Phaneuf can as a kid. Most guys it takes them eight years to have an impact and it took (Cleary) a long time, but he's a real good player."

Cleary says his on-ice transformation was the result of his off-ice maturation and he credits his wife Jelena, whom he married three years ago, with helping him get his priorities straight.

"She's changed my life," he said.

"He tells me getting married was the best thing that ever happened to him," Babcock said. "It got things straightened out and got things organized and gave some purpose to him."

Cleary joined Draper and Kirk Maltby on Detroit's checking line with about 10 games remaining in the regular season.

"I relish it really,"Cleary said. "It's a defensive-minded line and when an offence presents itself, we try to go. We realize what our job is. I'm just trying to fit into the line as best I can really."

Cleary's performance this series had made it tough for Babcock to limit his minutes.

"We're playing him less minutes now because we want him to be this physical guy,"Babcock said. "It's hard when you play him 20 minutes when you want him to be physical every shift."

Cleary counts himself lucky that he caught on with a stable franchise like Detroit with a core of longtime players who accept newcomers and give them a chance to help the team.

"I came to Detroit willing to make it work," he said. "It's really turned out to be quite a blessing."




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
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