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Bill Cleary Blossomed While Staying Close To Roots

By: 
Jon Hussey

Bill Cleary (right) has held just about every possible title in the hockey world, and he has excelled in each. Born in Cambridge, Mass., Cleary never strayed from his roots, becoming a star for Harvard in the 1950s. In the last 50 years, Cleary has remained dedicated to Harvard, as a player, a coach for 19 seasons and as director of athletics for 11 years.

However, Cleary reached the height of his career away from home, as a member of the 1960 U.S. Olympic Team in Squaw Valley. Cleary’s 12 points (six goals, six assists) led the U.S. team and helped secure its first ever gold medal in hockey.

Cleary, who won a silver in Cortina, Italy in 1956, scored the first goal in a 3-2 upset over the Russians en route to the gold-medal. Cleary’s brother Bob, who Cleary insisted be on the team, assisted on that key goal.

A prolific scorer at Harvard, Cleary set the all-time single season scoring record with 89 points in 21 games for the 1954-55 season. That same season Cleary also set Harvard records for most goals in a season (42), most assists in a game (8 vs. Boston University), most consecutive games with at least one goal (15), most goals in a period (4 vs. Northeastern) and most goals in a game (6 vs. Providence).

Although he never played in the NHL, Cleary’s success in the Olympics and at Harvard have earned him a spot in the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame, the International Hockey Hall of Fame and the U.S. Olympic Hall of Fame.

In 1996 at the Summer Olympics in Atlanta, Cleary received possibly his greatest honor, as the USOC declared Cleary a “Golden Olympian,” one of the 100 greatest living American gold-medal champions.

While his scoring touch earned him honors for his excellence on the ice, Cleary has continued his greatness off the ice. In 1971, Cleary took over for “Cooney” Weiland as head coach of Harvard. In his 19 seasons behind the bench, Cleary held a 324-201-22 record and led the Crimson to four Beanpot titles (‘74, ‘77, ‘81, ‘89), two ECAC championships (‘83, ‘87), 11 Ivy League championships and one NCAA championship in 1989.

On June 30, 2001, Cleary retired as athletic director at Harvard, a job he started on February 14, 1990, and put an end to 50 years of devotion to the sport he loves.

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