Hockey Hall of Fame - Stanley Cup Journals: 12

Dan Cleary shares the Stanley Cup at his visit to Janeway Children's Hospital in St. Johns, Newfoundland. (Phil Pritchard/HHOF)
"As Newfoundlanders, we have to fight for every inch of everything that we get," said Don Coombs, the mayor of Harbour Grace, Newfoundland and Labrador. "And Danny Cleary has taken that character and the personality of our province and made it work for him."

The fortunes of Harbour Grace and its most celebrated son run parallel. Both have seen glorious highs and darkened lows, but have come out the other side shining.

* * *

Harbour Grace can be found about 60 miles (100 kilometers) from St. John's, overlooking Conception Bay on one of the largest harbours on the Avalon Peninsula. Through the years, its location made it an important fishing and sealing centre, but devastating fires and the stark erosion of both the sealing and cod fishing industries have had a devastating effect on the resilient town.

Cleary and Alex Faulkner (Newfoundland's first NHL player) pose together for a photo with the Stanley Cup. (Phil Pritchard/HHOF)

But, as with any cloud, there is a silver lining, and amidst the doom and gloom, Harbour Grace has enjoyed some exciting and historical moments, too.

On May 20, 1932, Amelia Earhart used Harbour Grace as a point of departure, and after fifteen harrowing hours, during which she encountered fog, inclement weather and mechanical troubles, arrived in Londonderry, Northern Ireland, thus becoming the first female pilot to fly solo across the Atlantic Ocean.

In 2006, Jamie Korab, also from Harbour Grace, became an Olympic gold medalist in men's curling as part of Brad Gushue's team. The town's Melanie Haire earned a silver medal at the karate World Championship.

The gritty little town has shown its true colours through the years, and on Tuesday, July 1, they were red and white, not only for Canada Day, but because local boy Danny Cleary of the Detroit Red Wings had returned home as the conquering champion.

* * *

Dan proud father cleans the Stanley Cup for his son's parade. (Phil Pritchard/HHOF)
By the age of 15, Dan Cleary's future looked as though it had been determined for him. Having honed his talents on a rink his Dad had built beside the family home, Cleary had developed into an exceptional talent, and left 'the River' to further his hockey career in Kingston, Ontario, playing with Tier II Junior with the Voyageurs. By the next year (1994-95), Dan had exploded onto the scene as a member of the Belleville Bulls. In his first three campaigns as a Bull, he had seasons of 26, 53 and 32 goals, earning All-Star recognition each season. In the 1997 NHL Entry Draft, Dan Cleary was plucked by the Chicago Blackhawks in the first round.

But Dan had trouble adjusting to his new life, and he bounced from Chicago to Edmonton and on to Phoenix, with a handful of AHL stops along the way. By 2004, he was without an NHL team, and spent the year playing in Sweden.

In the fall of 2005, the free agent earned a tryout with the Detroit Red Wings. There were no guarantees other than a fair shot. Dan took the opportunity and made the best of it, earning a contract, and like his town, another chance.

Cleary regained his scoring touch, and in both 2006-07 and this past season, reached the 20-goal plateau. More importantly, he exhibited qualities not easily articulated on paper, but demonstrated ably on the ice — leadership, responsibility, perseverance and dedication. It was those qualities that helped the Detroit Red Wings earn the Stanley Cup in 2008, giving Dan Cleary the honour of being the first Newfoundland native to win the Stanley Cup.

* * *

Newfoundlanders love life like few others. A hardy breed, life's challenges have only made them more resilient and appreciate life more. Oh, and how they appreciated having the Stanley Cup return to The Rock with one of their own!

Just after noon on Monday, June 30, the Stanley Cup arrived at St. John's International Airport. It was greeted by Dan and his family amidst wall-to-wall people in the airport's terminal. So monumental was Cleary's accomplishment that 102 members of the media were accredited to accompany the Stanley Cup with Dan around Newfoundland. A media conference was held right at the airport, welcoming Cleary and his Cup. "Being a Newfoundlander is something I'm real proud of," he told the assembled throng. "Bringing the Stanley Cup home is an honour for me."

Over 30,000 supporters welcomed Cleary and the Stanley Cup to Harbour Grace, Newfoundland.
(Walt Neubrand/HHOF)
Dan took the Stanley Cup to a local photography studio to have portraits taken with his family. Earlier this spring, older brother Neil was a member of the Conception Bay CeeBees, winners of three consecutive Herder Memorial Trophy championships as Newfoundland and Labrador's Senior hockey champions. One of the terrific shots taken had the brothers there with their hardware -- Neil with the Herder and Danny with Stanley.

Immediately afterwards, Dan took the Cup to the Janeway Children's Health and Rehabilitation Centre. Greeted by two gigantic cakes, Cleary exhibited an astonishing connection with the kids, taking the Cup room to room to show the youngsters that dreams can most certainly come true with a lot of work and just a little luck. Dan's visit with the Stanley Cup touched a lot of children, who will never forget that moment, but we have a feeling that the hospital trip will remain with Dan a long time, too.

Over at the Fluvarium, an amazing attraction that allows visitors to view marine life in Nagle's Hill Brook through nine panoramic underwater viewing windows, Dan presided over the launch of the Dan Cleary Scholarship Fund, which will assist young athletes in pursuing their goals. In attendance, among the throng, was Alex Faulkner, who blazed a path for Cleary by being the first Newfoundlander to play in the NHL. On December 7, 1961, while dressed for the Toronto Maple Leafs, the native of Bishop's Falls played the first of his 101 games in the National Hockey League. Also at the Fluvarium was Dick Powers, who Cleary credits with being the most influential coach of his early hockey career. "We never lost touch and if Danny ever got in trouble, he would call here first," Dick chuckles, adding, "He went through a couple of rough times, but he came out of it." Powers coached Dan for eight years, nurturing the young prodigy along hockey's path.

After the private reception, the Stanley Cup was driven to Harbour Grace, a trip of one hour. A reception for friends and family was held at the marina in River Head, where 85 people enjoyed an outstanding seafood buffet.

A visit to Newfoundland wouldn't be complete without making certain the Stanley Cup was properly 'screeched in,' after all, it's the only way that those not lucky enough to be born in the province of Newfoundland and Labrador can become honourary Newfoundlanders.

Along with the Cup Keepers, Dan's wife and her family and various media members, Dan presided over the ceremony. First up was kissing a cod (smack dab on the lips). Next, it was a bite of Newfie steak (bologna). Then, each gnawed on a piece of hard tack (rock-hard bread). Finally, after saying, "Long may your big jib draw," it was a swallow of screech, a particularly potent brand of rum indigenous to Newfoundland. After all of the steps had been accomplished, the victims (err, rather, the recipients) received a certificate as proof of their adventure, and were welcomed into the Royal Order of Screechers.

* * *

July 1 in Canada is, appropriately, Canada Day. Newfoundland (now Newfoundland and Labrador) became the tenth and last province added to Confederation when they joined in 1949. The Day is already a celebration across the country, but when you're hosting the Stanley Cup, it is that much more exciting!

Dan returned to the house he grew up in and pointed out where the rink used to be. "I'd be out there 4 or 5 hours a day from November until March," he said.

While there, his father, Kevin, asked for a favour. "Is there any way you'd let me wash the Cup?" he asked, and next thing he knew, he was up to his elbows in soapy water, with a grin the size of the island plastered on his face.

One of the neighbours is a Tri-Con Special Olympian, and Dan took the Stanley Cup over to show the young athletes, who were mesmerized having hockey's greatest reward in their presence. "Awesome!"

After his Red Wings defeated the Penguins in the Stanley Cup Final, Cleary became the first Newfoundland-born player to capture the Stanley Cup. (Walt Neubrand/HHOF)
At 1:45, a gigantic parade began to inch its way through the streets of Harbour Grace, with Dan, his family and the Stanley Cup situated on four couches placed on a large trailer bed. To give you an idea of how big an event this was, remember that the population of Harbour Grace is 3,000, yet more than 30,000 fans were shoehorned into the town! The highway leading into town was jammed like New York at rush hour, and friends of friends begged to sleep on chesterfields in order to witness the event.

Fortunately, the red and white of the Canadian flag are the same colours of the Red Wings, so in a town decorated entirely in those two colours, residents could be both patriotic as well as proud of their homegrown hero.

The parade took just over an hour, then stopped at the arena where Cleary played his minor hockey. There, Dan had his photo taken with the Stanley Cup and each of the minor teams from the area. With non-stop cheering and car horns honking, the parade continued to snake along through the crowded streets, concluding at S.W. Moores Memorial Stadium.

The stadium has hosted everything from the Summer Games in 1992 to a visit from Prince Charles and Princess Diana in 1983, but neither had the crowd numbers nor the effect of this stop. As Mayor Don Coombs so aptly stated, "This is Cleary country!"

The mayor greeted the assembled, many who had come from all throughout the Atlantic provinces to see Cleary and the Cup. "To get it (the Cup) on Canada Day is something special," he said. "It gives everyone a chance to share with Danny and gives them the opportunity to be a part of the history that he's made." Then, Newfoundland and Labrador premier Danny Williams made a speech, concluding with a chorus of 'Danny Boy', sung to the blushing Red Wing.

Cleary next stepped forward to one of the most awe-inspiring ovations yet experienced, and that in spite of a constant rain. "It's been great, just awesome," said Cleary. "I'm proud of the fact that my name is on the Cup, the first one from Newfoundland. I'm a proud Newfoundlander. It was a great place to grow up."

Dan had many people to acknowledge, including his family and friends. He thanked Alex Faulkner for leading the way, but reserved his warmest remarks for Dick Power, his longtime minor hockey coach. "Dick, thank you for making me the player I am."

Stanley sits ahead of a sign that welcomes visitors to Harbour Grace, Newfoundland which proclaims the town as the "Home of Champions" and includes a photo Olympic Gold medalist Jamie Korab and Dan Cleary.
(Phil Pritchard/HHOF)

Dan concluded by stating that he hoped the visit by the Stanley Cup would prove to be an inspiration to young hockey players. The crowd cheered with incredible force. It was a very proud moment.

In spite of the rain, fans stood in line for five hours to get a picture with the Stanley Cup, which was displayed in a tent at a nearby soccer field. A Mountie stood guard while fans touched the Cup for luck and took photos of hockey's Holy Grail. In the background, musical acts Greeley's Reel and Mid-Life Crisis entertained the crowd.

At 8PM, organizers, who did such an outstanding job in mounting the event, had their time with Dan and the Stanley Cup. Then, as brilliant fireworks lit up the Newfoundland sky, Cleary took the Cup back to the house for some quiet time. There, he and his wife and their daughter, along with a handful of close family and friends, watched television while eating ice cream out of the world's greatest sundae dish.

Late that evening, the Royal Canadian Mounted Police led the Stanley Cup from Harbour Grace back to St. John's. As they were heading out of town, the Stanley Cup stopped for a photo in front of the town's sign: 'Welcome to Harbour Grace, Home of Champions, Sports Capital of Newfoundland and Labrador.'

* * *

Tuesday will be here before you know it, and in that edition of Stanley Cup Journal, we'll travel to Southern California to find out how Brad Stuart and Chris Chelios spent their time with the Cup.

Kevin Shea is the Editor of Publications and Online Features for the Hockey Hall of Fame.

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