Detroit Red Wings winger Daniel Cleary celebrated his first Stanley Cup on Wednesday night and the entire province of Newfoundland and Labrador celebrated along with him.
When Detroit prevailed 3-2 over the Pittsburgh Penguins to clinch the best-of-seven final in six games, Cleary, the pride of Harbour Grace, became the first Newfoundlander to win the Stanley Cup.
"I remember watching the Stanley Cup celebrations back home on TV," he said. "To finally be part of it is unbelievable — this is amazing."
NHL commissioner Gary Bettman presented the Stanley Cup to Nicklas Lidstrom, the first European captain so honoured.
Lidstrom hoisted it high and handed it to Dallas Drake, who, at the behest of fellow forward Kris Draper, passed it to Cleary.
"Drapes made the call," said Cleary, 29. "It was awesome."
"It was like everything lifted off my shoulders," he continued. "It was a huge weight.
"I looked up there because I knew that is where my family was. We did it, we did it, we finally did it."
Cleary was the third Newfoundlander to reach the Stanley Cup final, joining Alex Faulkner (1963, 1964) and Keith Brown (1992).
"Alex, we did it," he said.
Cleary, a high-scoring junior with the Belleville Bulls, struggled to establish himself in the NHL, scoring no more than 14 goals in his first seven seasons.
After stints with the Blackhawks, Edmonton Oilers and Phoenix Coyotes, he found himself unable to find work following the NHL lockout.
"It was tough mentally," Cleary said. "Not having a job when you got a family to support, it is not easy."
Cleary was invited to try out for the Red Wings at training camp, inking a free-agent contract on Oct. 4, 2005, and, with the unwavering support of his wife, Jelena, he has since blossomed into a reliable two-way forward with offensive flair.
"It is almost like she willed me to make the team," he said.
Harbour Grace was painted red — literally — with flags, signs and decals bearing the Red Wings logo throughout the NHL playoffs.
In a statement Thursday, Williams said Cleary embodies the 'true fighting spirit' of the province and kept fans riveted with his on-ice performance.
Cleary has scored 20 goals in each of the past two seasons, fulfilling the promise he showed in junior, etching his name on the Stanley Cup, and personifying the province in which he was born.
"As Newfoundlanders, we have to fight for every inch of everything that we get," Harbour Grace mayor Don Coombs said. "Danny Cleary has taken that character and that personality of our province and made it work for him."With files from the Canadian Press