Beyond the Bison: Ryan Donato: From the classroom to the ice

Patrick Dempsey, Senior Writer

Seniors at Harvard University, including 22-year-old Ryan Donato, are less than one month away from commencement and receiving a degree from one of the most prestigious academic institutions in the world. However, Donato will have no time for senioritis, as he will need all the motivation he can get to keep up with his school work while playing for the NHL’s Boston Bruins until graduation.

Donato played his first playoff game on April 14, only 29 days after his Harvard season and college hockey career came to an end. The first three months of 2018 have been a whirlwind for Donato. He quickly became a standout on the U.S. Men’s Ice Hockey Olympic Team in February, and in March he capped off an illustrious college hockey career and was awarded his conference’s player of the year award. All of that came before signing a two-year entry-level deal with his hometown team, the Bruins.

The Bruins have worked closely with Donato to accommodate his academic needs. He is granted the occasional missed practice that conflicts with a class, and he stays in contact with his professors to keep up on class assignments while on the road. The key to managing his workload this semester, he says, is maintaining good relationships with all his professors and communicating regularly with them. To complete his sociology degree he will be required to take summer classes this summer and next. However, the University’s willingness to accommodate Donato’s schedule is a credit to Harvard’s commitment to appreciating varying forms of talent.

Although the shift from college hockey to the professional level is difficult, Donato has made the transition look as seamless as possible. The Scituate, Mass. native played his first game for the Bruins on March 19, a home contest at TD Garden. He signed his contract, practiced for the first time with his new teammates, and made his NHL debut all in the same day. In his first practice, the young forward led the team’s pre-practice stretch, surrounded by his new teammates.

Before even having recorded ten minutes of ice time, Donato scored his first career goal, celebrated by a roaring TD Garden crowd that made for an unforgettable moment. He celebrated with his teammates, the home crowd, family, friends, and college teammates all in attendance. Even though the night ended in an overtime loss, Bruins fans were giddy with excitement to have found their newest hometown ice hockey prodigy.

“During warmups actually, I was just kind of taken away,” Donato said to the Harvard Crimson. “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 kind of the whole situation… It was an unbelievable experience.”

During the playoffs, the workload and time commitment for an NHL player ramps up. Donato’s commitment to finishing his academic career is tested at times. Donato’s teammate, 39-year-old Brian Gionta, was asked about the difficulty of Donato’s current path.

“It’s a challenge when you’re going through it as a student,” Gionta said to the New York Times. “But it’s a much different animal when you’re in this schedule we have, especially at playoff time.”

One of the biggest adjustments for Donato has been in the mental side of the game. The college hockey schedule has a lot of time built in between games. In the NHL, there are more games and significantly less practice time. It is as much of a mental grind as it is a physical one. Donato joined the Bruins at a an opportune time with some of the team’s forwards sidelined with injuries. He played in the Bruins’ final 12 regular season games, tallying an impressive five goals and four assists.

With Boston’s lineup close to full strength during the playoffs, his role has been more limited. Head coach Bruce Cassidy expects him to continue to contribute when the team needs him. A future in the NHL seems bright for the young Ryan Donato.

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