GANGNEUNG, South Korea — Just 11 days ago, they were on opposite sides of the ice, bitter college rivals aiming at the same Beanpot.
Neither Harvard’s Ryan Donato nor Boston University’s Jordan Greenway would ultimately see his team go home with the coveted prize, won instead in historic fashion by Northeastern. But the two college players have gotten themselves an equally lasting lifelong memory, departing after their epic double-overtime semifinal Beanpot game (won by Greenway and BU) as teammates on the US Olympic hockey team.
And two games into the tournament in PyeongChang, they are making it clear they belong on the international stage.
One game after Greenway scored his first Olympic goal, Donato did him one better, scoring twice Friday to lead the US past Slovakia, 2-1. His two power-play goals eased the disappointment of the opening loss to Slovenia — one wicked wrist shot and one nifty turnaround to get the Americans ready for Saturday’s pivotal seeding game against Russia.
For all the hand-wringing over how this tournament would go without NHL players, for all the criticism hurled at the quality of the product over the early games, there is something to be said for the pure joy, exuberance, and wide-eyed wonder seen through the eyes of these newest Olympians.
Even better is seeing them prove they’re not just happy to be here, but ready to compete.
“That [second one] was a goal scorer’s goal,” said teammate Troy Terry (also a college star, at Denver) of Donato’s third-period winner, which came just seven seconds after Slovakia was penalized for too many men on the ice. “I mean, he spun and got around the stick and tucked it. It was a great play.
“We can all make plays, and he can finish like no one else, so it’s fun. Especially when he’s burying like that, it’s a fun game.”
For Donato, a Scituate native and Bruins prospect taken in the second round of the 2014 draft, it’s been a life game, one he’s grown up around as the son of ex-NHL veteran Ted Donato. Though Ted, a longtime Bruin who just happens to be Ryan’s coach now at Harvard, is not here at the Olympics (Ryan’s mother, sister, and grandmother, as well as a few close friends, are here), father and son have burned plenty of cellphone minutes discussing the games. It was a piece of advice from his dad that echoed in Ryan’s head as soon as he eyed that first goal.
“He just said, ‘Don’t shoot so high anymore. Don’t shoot for the top shelf. Shoot low blocker, glove,’ ” Ryan said. “First one, I got the puck, I immediately thought low blocker, and it definitely went in. Definitely a good feeling.”
Team USA coach Tony Granato, also an NCAA coach for Wisconsin, didn’t mind the coaching assist, though he winked at the notion that Ryan hadn’t heard that message already.
“I think we probably mentioned that to him, too, but we’ll give his dad credit for that one,” Granato said. “He can have it for sure, and if he wants to call back with any other tips for him before the Russia game, he can do that too.”
Those who know their US Olympic hockey history remember that the NHL players began competing in 1998, just six years after Ted Donato was on the 1992 team that finished fourth in Albertville. With 7 points in eight games, Ted was one of three men tied for the team scoring lead.
For Ryan to pick up where his dad left off is an opportunity that they are doing their best to relish, riding the serendipitous timing of the NHL’s decision, Ryan’s availability as a Harvard junior, and the combination of speed, skill, and savvy that made him a natural choice for the roster.
“It’s kind of a crazy experience,” Donato said, “the fact that it happens to fall perfectly in my junior year, at perhaps the peak of my college career. It’s a blessing. I don’t think I would have had this opportunity if it wasn’t the exact right moment in time.”
For Donato and Greenway, their moment is now.
“They’re extremely composed,” team captain and former NHLer Brian Gionta said. “They’re great players. They’re a big part of this team like Coach said early on, leading into the tournament that they’re going to be a big part. They are.”
Donato and Greenway have combined for three of Team USA’s four goals, one winger with blazing speed making his mark against Slovakia, one mammoth center with ridiculous size and strength doing so against Slovenia.
“Seeing how happy [Greenway] was after the goal kind of just made me eager to kind of hopefully get one for myself,” Donato said in the heady afterglow of the Slovakia win. “But at the end of the day, it’s a team effort, and I’m not too worried about who scores the goals as long as we get the win.”
For two former rivals loving their new life as teammates, that’s what matters now.
“It’s funny just to have that Beanpot connection,” Donato said. “I’ve grown up playing against Jordan in different tournaments.
“It’s funny how that comes full circle. I’m excited to have another Boston player from college. I can put the college rivalry aside, but we can bond about some good food places in Boston and the city.”
And maybe, just maybe, take a trip to the podium.
“They want to be over the boards and on the ice and in the action,” said Granato. “They’re not waiting on their heels, going, ‘This is too big for me.’
“They’re going to be great players for a long time. Obviously the next couple weeks hopefully we can get the best out of them like we have for the first two games.”Tara Sullivan is a Globe columnist. She can be reached at email@example.com.