PITTSBURGH – The Stanley Cup is coming to Newfoundland and Labrador this summer and for the first time ever it’s going to be brought there by a native son.
Daniel Cleary hoisted the silver mug above his head for the first time on Wednesday night following Detroit’s 3-2 series-clinching win over the Pittsburgh Penguins.
He’s talked openly about wanting to become the first Newfoundlander ever to have his name engraved on the trophy and that wish will now come true. The 29-year-old will also get to bring the Stanley Cup back to his hometown of Harbour Grace, N.L., when he gets his day with it this summer.
The small town overlooking Conception Bay has been swept up in Red Wings fever during these playoffs, with red flags, signs and decals bearing the team’s logo popping up everywhere.
The frenzy can all be credited to Cleary, a former junior hockey standout who has made good on hockey’s biggest stage.
“As Newfoundlanders, we have to fight for every inch of everything that we get,” Don Coombs, the mayor of Harbour Grace, said last week. “Danny Cleary has taken that character and that personality of our province and made it work for him.”
Less than 30 people from the province have ever played an NHL game and only two had ever before appeared in the Stanley Cup final – Keith Brown and Alex Faulkner, the first Newfoundlander to make it to the big league.
Brown’s 1992 Chicago Blackhawks and Faulkner’s 1963 and ’64 Detroit Red Wings each lost in the final.
Finally, Cleary has broken through with a win that can make all 500,000 people in his home province proud.
The former first-round draft choice has travelled a long road since leaving Newfoundland at age 14 to pursue his dream of playing in the NHL. After stops in Chicago, Edmonton and Phoenix, he didn’t have any contract offers when the lockout ended in 2005.
He only came to Detroit’s training camp that year on a tryout. Cleary made the team and has turned himself into an effective player for the Red Wings under the guidance of coach Mike Babcock.
The winger scored 20 goals each of the past two seasons and would easily have eclipsed that mark this year if not for breaking his jaw in February and being sidelined for a month.
Cleary was not a star for Detroit during the post-season, although he did score a goal in the team’s Game 1 victory over the Penguins and created several other chances throughout.
Details like that matter little now. The only important thing to Cleary is that he’s won a championship that will finally put Newfoundland’s stamp on the oldest trophy in professional sports.
It’s long overdue.