PHILADELPHIA – In the moments following his son being drafted by the Bruins, 27 years after he had the same dream-like experience, Ted Donato was the first to say things have changed quite a bit. His son, Ryan, heard his name called by the Black and Gold at the end of the second round (56th overall), while sitting in the stands at the Wells Fargo Center surrounded by friend family.
It was exactly how every hockey-loving kid envisions it, if they’re lucky – and good enough – to be drafted by an NHL team.
The elder Donato turned in a 12-year NHL career after getting selected by the Bruins in the fifth round (98th overall) of the 1987 draft, and jumped right into the NHL fire in the spring of 1992 after capping a brilliant Harvard hockey career with a run on the 1992 USA Olympic hockey team.
But the father’s draft day wasn’t filled with quite the same fanfare.
“It was a little different day and age back then. It was a little more of a pipe dream for somebody that was 5-foot-9 to have a chance to play in the National Hockey League,” said the elder Donato. “I was at my friend’s Jimmy and Steven O’Neal’s backyard pool, and I was in the water when I got a call from him. Usually that was trouble, you know? I’m not even sure I remembered the draft was that day and then all of a sudden they were saying you got drafted by the Bruins.”
Now fast-forward nearly three decades, and Donato’s son was able to get the full NHL bells and whistles experience in Philadelphia.
“How exciting is that to have your son drafted by the Bruins? I couldn’t be happier or prouder. I just crossed my fingers, said my prayers and hoped that it was going to come out Black and Gold, and it did,” said Donato, who finished with 150 goals and 347 points in 796 career games. “But I’ve also been very careful to also let him know that there’s a lot of hard work that goes in before you can really pull that sweater on. Our whole family is proud of all the work that’s got him to this point, but hopefully it’s just the start of something good.”
Donato gained plenty of hockey wisdom while playing in the NHL and taking over the head coaching gig for the Harvard Crimson hockey team and he’s exactly right. Saturday was a day for new NHL stories to begin with another Donato generation picking up the hockey torch in Boston, and making that first step in a pro hockey career that’s still something like four or five years away.
The 18-year-old Donato impressed the Bruins in a dominant career playing for his uncle at the Dexter School. He managed to survive some tough questions from family friends, such as B’s general manager Don Sweeney, in the interview process and wowed general manager Peter Chiarelli and director of amateur scouting Keith Gretzky by working his bag off to make sure he was in tip-top shape for any workouts with potentially interested teams.
It was pretty apparent that Donato badly wanted to impress the B’s brass in their interview, and Sweeney eventually told him “you can breathe now” to loosen him up a bit after a pointed round of questions.
Joking aside, the Bruins were impressed with the work put in Donato to improve his conditioning, diet and overall shape.
“From the time when he finished playing in prep school to when we interviewed him, he really kind of dialed into his conditioning and his diet,” said Chiarelli. “He’s really kind of toned up, and he needs that. He needs that commitment and Ryan [Donato] needs to keep doing that. We were really impressed when we saw that.”
Donato clearly was still in Cloud 9 territory right after he was picked, admitting he was still shaking as he got to the media podium wearing a Bruins jersey No. 14, and recounted some of his earliest memories from the 2003-04 season his dad played with the Bruins. It was Donato’s final NHL campaign and Patrice Bergeron’s first NHL season as a teenager, and it paved the way for No. 37 becoming the son’s favorite player growing up in Scituate, Mass., as a diehard Bruins fan.
“My favorite player is Patrice Bergeron, hands down. He’s the player I try to model my game after,” said Donato. “He’s so well-respected around the players — off the ice, too. I remember when he was younger, his rookie year, it was my dad’s last year in the NHL. He came to the house, he came to the Harvard games, and he really is special to me. I try to copy the things he does on and off the ice.
“I’m a guy that can get the puck, to the net, create opportunities and score. I like to be a team player, like to block shots. I like to play the body and I like to play in all situations. I follow the team religiously — just being in Boston, it’s such a big part of Boston. I couldn’t be happier going to this team: just being around the guys, growing up with all the Bruins players in the house and being friends with all the Bruins players. There really are no words to describe it right now.”
Donato was the latest in a pretty enjoyable run of local kids taken by the Bruins organization they worshiped as Massachusetts kids. Two years ago, it was Charlestown defenseman Matt Grzelcyk. Last season, it was Tom Fitzgerald’s son, Ryan, and this season it was Donato’s turn to live out a childhood dream.
“We try to look closely at the Boston kids: 1) we just see them more, just because we’re here, and 2) I think it’s important — what you’re alluding to, that you get that local flavor,” said Chiarelli. “Selfishly, [these kids are] more motivated, too, to play for their hometown team. So, it seems like each of the Boston kids we’ve taken in the last little bit have had a real interesting story connected to us.”
It might make some Bruins fans – and media members for that matter, too – feel old to see the second generation of the Fitzgeralds and the Donatos starting to make their way in the hockey world with the Original Six employer of their fathers. Still, there’s also no doubting that the organization will be in good hands if it’s entrusted to the caring, skill and talent of the B’s next generation.