Cleary's most renowned performance as a player came when he set Beanpot records for goals in a period (four), game (five) and tournament (seven) while leading Harvard to the 1995 title.
William J. Cleary, Jr. ’56 — whose association with Harvard spanned six decades and included experiences as a student-athlete, coach and administrator — retired June 30, 2001. His Harvard career began in his early years as a program seller at Harvard Stadium, continued through his days as a standout player, included his 19-year head coaching tenure and concluded with his 11-year term as the Nichols Family Director of Athletics.
Cleary ranks among the greatest athletes to play for Harvard — lettering in both baseball and ice hockey — and still holds or shares seven school records in hockey. He was a first-team All-America selection in 1954-55 when he helped the Crimson to the Beanpot title, a berth in the NCAA Frozen Four and a 17-3-1 record.
In 1956, Cleary was a member of the U.S. Olympic hockey team that captured a silver medal. Four years later, he was the top scorer for the U.S. team that won gold at Squaw Valley, Calif. Cleary was also the leading scorer for the 1957 U.S. National Team and captain and MVP for the 1959 U.S. National Team.
Cleary, a Cambridge, Mass., native, graduated from Belmont Hill School in 1952. At Harvard, he earned a Bachelor of Arts in government and served in the United States Army from 1955 until 1957. After several years as a high school and college hockey official, he returned to Harvard in 1968 as the freshman hockey coach. After spending some time as the assistant varsity coach, he began his tenure as the men’s hockey head coach in 1971. He posted a 324-201-22 record in 19 seasons. In 1989, he guided the Crimson to a 31-3 record and the NCAA championship, the first NCAA team title in school history. Under Cleary, Harvard reached college hockey’s final four on seven occasions and advanced to the national championship game three times. Harvard also won two ECAC tournament titles, four Beanpot championships and 11 Ivy League championships under his guidance.
On numerous occasions, Cleary has been recognized for both his athletic ability and commitment to amateur athletics. He was the recipient of the Hobey Baker Legend of Hockey Award in 1993. In 1997, Cleary received the Lester Patrick Award for contributions to hockey, was named to the NCAA Ice Hockey 50th Anniversary Team, was chosen a U.S. Hockey Player of the Decade (1956-66) and was inducted into the International Ice Hockey Hall of Fame. In 1989, he was inducted into the United States Olympic Hall of Fame, which was followed by his selection as one of the “100 Golden Olympians” by the U.S. Olympic Committee in 1996. In 1999, he was named by Sports Illustrated as Massachusetts’ 33rd best athlete of the 20th century. The Boston Globe, meanwhile, placed him 68th on its list of the top 100 New England athletes of the past century.
Cleary’s retirement brought forth a landslide of recognition for the Harvard legend. On Marchâ€¯2, 2001, Cleary’s No. 4 hockey jersey was retired in a ceremony at the Bright Center between periods of the Crimson’s meeting with archrival Yale. It is the only jersey number retired in any sport in the history of Harvard Athletics, which includes 41 varsity sports and over 150 years of intercollegiate athletic tradition. Harvard’s three Hobey Baker Award winners — Mark Fusco ’83, Scott Fusco ’85-86 and Lane MacDonald ’88-89 — were on hand to watch as Tim Stay ’01, who wore Cleary’s No. 4, skated from the dressing room, removed his sweater and surrendered the number to Cleary at center ice. Stay wore No. 3 for the remainder of his career.
Two weeks later in Lake Placid, N.Y., Cleary was bestowed another honor, as ECAC commissioner Phil Buttafuoco announced that the trophy which is awarded to the regular-season champion would thereafter be known as the Cleary Cup, honoring the longtime coach and administrator for his contributions to the ECAC and college hockey as a whole.