Last Friday night, the Harvard men’s hockey team (15-14-4) lost 5-4 to Clarkson (23-9-6) in overtime of an ECAC Hockey semifinal in Lake Placid, NY. It was the abrupt end to a disappointing season for the Crimson who won the Beanpot, reached the Frozen Four last season and had high expectations for this campaign but failed to live up to them. Playing for his dad Ted (the former Bruin and Catholic Memorial great), forward Ryan Donato finished his junior season with two assists against the Golden Knights, giving him 43 points (26 goals, 17 assists) in 2017-18. A Hobey Baker finalist (given to college hockey’s top player) and member of Team USA at the Pyeongchang Olympics, Ryan made the decision on Sunday to turn pro and sign a two-year entry level deal with the Bruins (45-17-9) so there he was on Monday at TD Garden making his NHL debut vs. Columbus (40-28-5).
If this whirlwind of emotion and activity affected him, you wouldn’t know it as Ryan went out and earned the No. 1 star of the game: he picked up three points (1 goal, 2 assists) as Boston fell 5-4 in overtime to the Blue Jackets. Veteran winger Rick Nash (3 goals, 3 assists in 11 games as a Bruin) was a last-second scratch due to an upper-body injury so Donato was elevated from the third line to the second line, skating on the left wing with David Krejci (17 goals, 21 assists) at center and Danton Heinen (13 goals, 29 assists) on the right wing. From his first shift, the 21-year-old from Scituate MA looked like he belonged as he became the eighth Bruin to score his first career regular season goal this season and then he was the first Bruin since Jarno Kultanen on Oct. 5, 2000 (3 assists) to have a multiple-point game in his NHL debut.
“It kind of felt like a dream and I really didn’t even get that warmed up because I was too focused on everything else and just the whole situation,” admitted Donato. “It was an unbelievable experience and a blessing tonight.”
Boston will be careful not to heap too much pressure on Donato-after all this is a guy that talked about finishing some term papers for his classes at Harvard before embarking on the Bruins’ upcoming road trip-but they know they could have something special here. “He’s on the puck-as advertised-in terms of his compete (level),” noted Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy. “He did a real good job, I liked him a lot and I’m sure that Krech (David Krejci) did as well. They seemed to have good chemistry.”
For years, Boston’s drafting and development of players was spotty at best. This is no longer the case under GM Don Sweeney (who had to have the inside track on Donato since he went to Harvard and played with Ted there and in Boston) as the Bruins have continually been able to plug in younger guys this season when needed due to their plethora of injuries to key pieces. They have also been successful in signing their top college draft picks like Donato and Wisconsin center Trent Frederic who left the Badgers after two seasons last week to sign a three-year entry-level deal with the Bruins. He had his first professional assist on Sunday for the Providence Bruins. This shows how the B’s aren’t just built for a Cup run this season, they look like a club that should be a top team in the NHL for years to come based on an NHL and AHL roster that are both brimming with talent.
The Bruins begin a very difficult four-game Western Conference road trip in St. Louis (39-28-5) on Wednesday (8, NBCSN) before going to Dallas (38-27-8) on Friday (8:30, NESN). They wrap things up in Minnesota (41-24-8) on Sunday night (7:30, NBCSN) and Winnipeg (43-19-10) next Tuesday (8, NESN) before returning home to face Tampa Bay (49-19-4) next Thursday (7, NESN).