Cleary con­tin­ues to con­trib­ute off ice

The Compass - - Front page - TC ME­DIA

While he’s still listed as a roster player for the Grand Rapids Griffins of the Amer­i­can Hockey League, all signs point to Danny Cleary serv­ing as more of a men­tor and player-coach this sea­son. It could point the way to­wards what’s in store for his postre­tire­ment ca­reer.

Danny Cleary got into a hockey game re­cently, but it won’t change the 0 games played, 0-0-0 stats line next to the River­head, Har­bour Grace na­tive’s name.

The game, played ear­lier this month, was a fundraiser, the 12th an­nual sledge hockey matchup be­tween Cleary’s Grand Rapids Griffins and Grand Rapids Sled Wings, a team made up of chil­dren and teens who have phys­i­cal dis­abil­i­ties.

Cleary is listed on the Griffins’ roster, has a stall in the Grand Rapids locker room and par­tic­i­pates in prac­tices. But he has yet to play a reg­u­lar-sea­son game for the Amer­i­can Hockey League team in 2016-17, and is al­ways of­fi­cially listed as a veteran scratch, as part of ad­her­ence to AHL rules re­gard­ing how many play­ers with a des­ig­nated amount of pro ex­pe­ri­ence can dress for each game.

This is widely seen as part of Cleary’s move from player (he ap­peared in 35 games with the Griffins last sea­son) to some other role in the game, pos­si­bly in player devel­op­ment or in a coach­ing role for the Detroit Red Wings or­ga­ni­za­tion in which he’s be­longed to the last dozen sea­sons.

But there are other con­trib-

“If I was healthy, maybe it would be a harder tran­si­tion. But I’m good with all this.”

— Danny Cleary

ut­ing fac­tors to his non-play­ing sta­tus. The Griffins, lead­ers of the AHL’s West­ern Con­fer­ence, are par­tic­u­larly deep at for­ward, there’s that veteran is­sue and, per­haps most tellingly, the 38-year-old Cleary con­tin­ues to deal with what are now chronic knee, groin and shoul­der is­sues.

“If I was healthy, maybe it would be a harder tran­si­tion. But I’m good with all this,” Cleary re­cently told mlive’s Peter J. Wall­ner.

On the team, he is seen as sort of an unof­fi­cial as­sis­tant to bench boss Todd Nel­son — not ex­actly play­ing coach, maybe more of a prac­tis­ing coach.

“For all of us young kids, it’s a big help,” Griffins rookie Do­minic Tur­geon told Wall­ner. “Whether it’s at prac­tice or af­ter prac­tice, he’s show­ing us things that we can ad­just to or do bet­ter.

“He’s one of the boys.” Nel­son echoes that com­ment. “His role is (to) prac­tice with us ev­ery day and be a men­tor for the young kids on and off the ice,” Nel­son told Wall­ner. “Be­ing a pro­fes­sional hockey player is more than what you do on the ice. It’s a way of life ... how you con­duct your­self off the ice, how you treat your body and peo­ple, in gen­eral.

“Danny’s been a great men­tor in that re­gard.”

And Cleary has gone be­yond ac­cept­ing his role — he’s tak­ing pride in it.

“Sat­is­fac­tion for me is watch­ing fu­ture Red Wings get bet­ter,” he said. “I’m al­ways talk­ing to them about lit­tle things. Not like a dad or any­thing, but if I see some­thing, I go and tell them. It’s al­ways a good pos­i­tive mes­sage to help them get bet­ter.”

GRAND RAPIDS GRIFFINS/SAM IANNAMICO

Danny Cleary hasn’t dressed for any Amer­i­can Hockey League games with the Grand Rapids Griffins this sea­son, but did re­cently par­tic­i­pate in the Griffins’ an­nual sledge hockey fundraiser.

GRAND RAPIDS GRIFFINS PHOTO/MARK NEW­MAN

Daniel Cleary is spend­ing a sec­ond year with the Detroit Red Wings’ farm team as an unof­fi­cial player/coach.

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