Tuesday, September 14, 2010
A Tribute to Daniel Cleary
About a week ago, the Kingston Township Voyageurs paid tribute to one of their former players, Daniel Cleary. He was fourteen years old when he boarded the jet from Saint John’s, and headed to Toronto, his first flight.
“I was too excited over going away to play hockey. I didn’t think about leaving everything behind, my family and friends,” he recently reported to Patrick Kennedy of the QMI agency. “At 14, what did I know? At the time I never thought or considered how hard it must’ve been for my parents. I know now. If my child was going away at the age of 14…let’s just say I have a better understanding of how my folks felt the day I left.”
That was in the summer of 1993. Since that time, Danny Cleary has honed his skills to become one of the most effective forwards in the National Hockey League.
At the recent World Hockey Summit, I button-holed the Detroit Red Wings’ General Manager Ken Holland to ask about the contributions of Dan Cleary to the team.
“I followed Danny’s progress from the moment he was drafted into the NHL. He was a first round draft with great skills. But he was sixteen years old, and needed grooming. He had prodigious offensive skills. But he defensive play, and his conditioning were suspect; nonetheless, he had what it takes in raw skill to become successful at the NHL level.”
Those of us in the Quinte area knew that Cleary was destined to achieve success at the highest levels in hockey. He came to Belleville following his year with the Voyageurs, and spent three quality years with the Bulls, and even returned for a fourth year. The Chicago Black Hawks had drafted Cleary, and set him back to Belleville for a little more seasoning. He teamed well with Brian Second and Craig Mills, displaying great chemistry as a unit. They were all young, and feisty, and sometimes a challenge for Coach Mavety. But when the puck dropped at centre ice to start the game, they played so well together.
Cleary did score more than a hundred goals for the Bulls, but it was his deft play with the puck that amazed the fans, and the scouts alike. He always had the puck on the proverbial string, and knew how to protect it. I am sure it came from hours of shinny on the rock. It is from the old “Just try to take it from me,” challenge. He would set up behind the net in the offensive zone, and direct pucks to the other forwards as they sped around the net.
Holland continued: “Dan Cleary is a really good two way player. He is an excellent penalty killer. One thing about him that makes him unique is that he can play equally well with skilled players and with checkers. No matter what the situation, his coach can trust him. He will be most effective playing on the first line, or the fourth line.”
Dan Cleary was an enigma to many of the rulers in the National Hockey League for many years. From my personal perspective, he was a trickster from the rock. He loved to play, and he loved a good prank while with the Belleville Bulls.
He and his line mates drove over to Wellington for dinner one horrible winter evening. There were blizzard conditions, causing me to do a “360” on the Town Line Road. (Not the first, undoubtedly not the last!)
Almost exactly at supper time, Danny and his teammates arrived, with Danny at the wheel. “Great drive,’ he reported. His teammates were a little shaken by the adventure. Danny was approaching his sixteenth birthday.
Many have reported details of his woes off the ice: “growing pains” pretty well sums it up. A few mistakes, here and there. Nothing earth shattering. Growth, they call it. But now Danny is ready to play, and the confidence shown in him by Ken Holland will only lead to fine results on the ice for the kid from the Rock.
September 14, 2010.