USA Hockey won’t name its team for the Pyeongchang Olympics until Jan. 1, but the early betting is that Bruins prospect Ryan Donato, along with Boston University winger Jordan Greenway, will be front and center for Uncle Sam’s stick carriers when the puck is dropped in South Korea.
Donato, 21, would be following the tracks of dad Ted Donato, who played for the 1992 US Olympic squad that was edged out of a bronze medal in the Albertville Games by the Czechs. The elder Donato suited up with a cast of proud Bay State brethren that included the likes of Joe Sacco, Shawn McEachern, Keith Tkachuk, Marty McInnis, and Steve Heinze.
In ’92, despite USA flops in Sarajevo (’84) and Calgary (’88), the aura of America’s stunning gold medal win in 1980 at Lake Placid still lingered when Donato and company took the ice in the French Alps.
“No question, 100 percent,” recalled the senior Donato, who is Ryan’s coach at Harvard, where Ryan just began his junior academic year. “As hockey players, we were still in awe of the ’80 Olympic win and Olympic team and we were in search of that kind of glory, if you will.”
Unlike the last five Winter Games (1998-2014), the NHL will not be sending its best and brightest to Olympus, thus the return of an amateur-like competition.
Team USA is expected to stock its roster with college kids, along with Yanks assigned to AHL-only contracts and those playing in European leagues.
The senior Donato, who was playing Hyde Park youth hockey in 1980, still counts his Olympic experience among the “blessings” of a playing career that included nearly 800 NHL games.
“I think there is a part of me that aligns with my old coach at Harvard, Bill Cleary,” said Donato, 48, Harvard class of 1991. “He felt the ultimate that anybody could strive for was the Olympics.”
Little surprise then that father would be fully supportive of son joining the USA squad, even if it meant that Harvard would have to play a man down if Ryan shipped off to South Korea for the duration in the thick of the NCAA season.
The Games begin Feb. 9, smack in the middle of the two Beanpot dates (Feb. 5, 12). However, with Olympic hockey action not slated to begin until Feb. 16, it’s possible Donato and Greenway could delay their flight overseas until Feb. 13. They then could squeeze in a day or two of practice before diving directly into tournament play.
“It would be a little bittersweet to miss games here,” said Ryan, who after two years as a left winger is expected to shift to center this season for the Crimson. “It’s a matter if I make it or not, obviously. But if I do, sure, I’d be upset to miss time with [Harvard], but I’d be excited to have the opportunity maybe to win a gold medal, as well.”
According to Ryan, he grew up with Olympic inspiration, in the shape of his dad’s framed USA sweaters hanging on the walls at home. He hasn’t seen video of the Games in France, but he’s seen pictures and scanned newspaper clips, heard the tales. A quarter-century later, he’d welcome the chance to carry the family colors up Olympus.
“You’re there to win games for a whole country,” he said. “You’re there to bring it back home for people you love and care about, bring it back to a country where you’ve lived your whole life. It just means a lot more in the aspect that it’s not just about the hockey. It’s more than that; it’s an important tournament not just for USA Hockey but for the country. Putting on a USA jersey would be a blessing, a cool experience. “
Chosen 56th in the 2014 NHL Draft by the Bruins, Donato in July participated in his fourth development camp with his future Black and Gold employer.
Since being drafted in his days at the Dexter School, he has picked up speed and size (now 6 feet 1 inch, 195 pounds), and he is viewed by Boston management as one of the club’s top prospects.
Bruins general manager Don Sweeney said recently that he could envision Donato turning pro and possibly plugging into the Boston varsity once his 2017-18 junior season is complete in Cambridge. If so, the transition would mirror what the senior Donato experienced in 1992. After wrapping up in France, Ted Donato slipped seamlessly into the Boston roster, joined by fellow Olympians Joe Juneau, Clark Donatelli, Gord Hynes, and Heinze.
“Five guys with the Bruins coming down the stretch,” Donato mused a quarter-century later, “and right into the playoffs.”
As for Ryan, he isn’t certain about how soon he will attempt the transition. Opting out, starting his pro career, has its appeal. But as he unpacked his bags recently at his Winthrop House dorm, he was deliberate in considering the options.
“It’s a possibility,” said Donato, a sociology major. “But I think in the end, I’d like to graduate. I came to Harvard for a reason. But I also have to consider what is best for my career. At the end of the day, I want to be a hockey player, and if it makes sense to go after the end of my junior year, that’s a possibility. But I think in the end I am going to go do based off what my dad thinks, what my family thinks . . . what’s best for my hockey career.”
LIST OF CANDIDATES
Black and Gold hopefuls lined up
As noted in these pages over the summer, the Bruins will have some 15 candidates vying for perhaps as many as five open spots at left and right wing once camp commences (rookies hit the ice Thursday afternoon in Buffalo).
Many of the names should be familiar by now — Danton Heinen (sensation of last year’s camp), Sean Kuraly (big playoff goal), along with Austin Czarnik, Frank Vatrano, Tim Schaller, Noel Acciari, and others, including former first-round pick Jake DeBrusk and Notre Dame phenom Anders Bjork.
Not to be forgotten: Kenny Agostino, the ex-Yale forward who signed a one-way deal worth $875,000 on July 1, the club’s priciest offseason acquisition.
“He deserves an opportunity to see where his skills translate,” said GM Don Sweeney. “He’s shown growth in the American Hockey League, playing for a couple of different teams, and he’s had a lot of success there.”
Agostino, 25, played all four seasons at Yale and turned pro after graduation in 2014. Originally a Pittsburgh pick (No. 140, 2010), he was dished to Calgary in March 2013 when the Penguins, much to the Bruins’ befuddlement, landed Jarome Iginla in a deadline deal. Agostino has had only brief tastes in the NHL (17 games with Calgary and St. Louis), but last season with the Chicago Wolves he led the AHL in scoring with a line of 24-59—83.
A left-shot left wing, he will audition for the open spot on David Krejci’s line.
“In college, certainly toward the end, he needed to score goals,” noted Sweeney. “Guys get in the league and they think, ‘Well, I’ve always been a goal scorer, I’m going to be a goal scorer.’ Then the goals don’t go in. Kenny’s reclaimed the goal-scoring ability, but he also knows he can get in on the forecheck and be more of an energy player. He is strictly a winger, kills penalties, plays on the power play — so we are excited. Our scouts identified a guy who is deserving of an opportunity.”
Bruins could have used Seidenberg
Ex-Bruin Dennis Seidenberg, 36, will return for a second season on the Islander backline, after his surprising, ill-conceived buyout in Boston in June 2016.
He played 73 games for the Islanders last season and then in May suited up for Germany in the World Championship, where he finished as the tournament’s top point getter (1-7—8) among defensemen.
The Islanders were quick to extend Seidenberg for another year at a budget-luvin’ $1.25 million (cheap dough for a guy who averaged 19:25 of ice time last season). He will collect another $4.5 million in buyout bucks from the Bruins over the next three seasons.
Sure, Seidenberg’s cap hit of $5 million was high here, but the Bruins fell short in Round 1 vs. the Senators because they were decimated on the blue line, with Torey Krug, Brandon Carlo, and eventually Adam McQuaid all hors de combat. Had they been able to suit up the Schwenningen Sledgehammer, perhaps they would have slipped by Erik Karlsson and friends.
Recchi leaving decision up to son
His dad, Mark Recchi, is headed to his Hall of Fame induction and will be coaching in Pittsburgh, while Cameron Recchi will be skating his wing here in Massachusetts this season, suiting up for his junior year at Cushing Academy.
Recchi, 16, connected for 3-8—11 in 32 games last season in Ashburnham. He also has been drafted by Windsor (OHL) and Youngstown (USHL), which means he could be facing a decision about a career path in a year or two. He will be eligible for the NHL Draft in 2019 (his dad went 67th overall to Pittsburgh in 1988).
“I’m not sure what he’ll do,” said the senior Recchi, who’ll be inducted in the Hall on Nov. 13. “There’s pros and cons to both . . . it will be up to him to make that decision. So I will leave it up to him to figure it out. He’s talked to a few colleges, too. This year will really tell the tale.”
Cam’s grandfather, Mel Recchi, by the way, for years was co-owner of the Kamloops News in Kamloops, British Columbia.
The best career advice Mel imparted on Mark?
“He was awesome,” said Mark. “The only thing he ever said was, ‘If you are going to do something, do it 100 percent, and that’s what you do. If you can’t give it 100 percent, then I don’t want you to play.’ That was it. That was all he ever said to me. It was great.”
If only neighborhood rinks were filled with more Mel Recchis in the stands.
Good first steps in Worcester
The ECHL’s Worcester Railers, owned by the North Shore’s Cliff Rucker (ex- of Tufts), will open their inaugural season this fall at the DCU Center.
“They’re doing it right in Worcester,” said Allan Steele, once a minority owner of the ECHL’s ill-fated Greensboro Generals in the late 1990s. “They’ve taken a couple of years to start it up, invested heavily in the local community. I’m impressed. It really looks like Cliff knows what he’s doing.”
The attempt in Greensboro, noted Steele, needed more lead time and better financial backing.
“We rushed,” said Steele, a 1982 graduate of Salem State College who these days is a cell tower entrepreneur. “We rushed and failed.”
The Generals played in the 20,000-seat Greensboro Coliseum, which far exceeded ticket demand for an ECHL start-up.
“Awesome, first-class venue,” recalled Steele. “But just too many seats. With small crowds, it felt like a morgue. The ‘E’ is best suited for around 6,000 seats and try to build up demand from there.”
Deserved honor for Ratelle
The Rangers announced in the thick of last season that they would retire Jean Ratelle’s No. 19. Now they have set the date to lift his sweater to the Madison Square Garden rafters: Feb. 25 prior to the Blueshirts game vs. the Red Wings.
For Black and Gold fans born after the Nov. 7, 1975, deal that brought “Ratty” to Boston with Brad Park, just know this: He is the among the most talented, classiest, and dignified men ever to pull on the spoked-B.
He finished his playing career here in the spring of 1981, and four years later was inducted into the Hall of Fame.
Rangers GM Jeff Gorton, ex- of the Boston front office, helped in the effort to see that Ratelle earned his rightful spot in Blueshirt history. Ratelle will celebrate his 77th birthday on Oct. 3.
Rookie camp opens Thursday for the Bruins, with the first on-ice session at 4 p.m. in Buffalo, where they’ll participate in a tournament (with the Sabres, Devils, and Penguins) that will wrap there Monday, Sept. 11 . . . Peter Cehlarik, who had a short stay with the Black and Gold varsity last season, underwent offseason shoulder surgery and will not suit up for rookie camp. The 6-foot-2-inch left winger (0-2—2 in 11 games with Boston) likely won’t begin workouts until after the main camp opens on Sept. 14 . . . The Bruins open their exhibition schedule Sept. 18 with a visit to Quebec City, where they’ll face the provincial darling Habs. It has been 22 years since the Nordiques packed up and headed west to do business as the Colorado Avalanche after 16 seasons in La Belle Province. No telling if the NHL ever returns to Quebec City. With Vegas ponying up the $500 million expansion fee, the league will be eager to add at least a couple of more teams, but Quebec is but one contender, along with the viable likes of Seattle, Kansas City, Houston, and others . . . Next Tkachuk up. Boston University, home to then-budding star Keith Tkachuk for the 1990-91 season, this season welcomes freshman Brady Tkachuk, who will turn 18 on Sept. 16. A left winger, the 6-2, 195-pound Brady is expected to be a high first-round pick in the June 2018 draft in Dallas . . . The Bruins never engaged in serious talks about bringing back Drew Stafford, the ex-Jet who joined the Black and Gold at the trading deadline for a sixth-round pick. The affable Stafford 10 days ago signed a one-year deal with New Jersey that will pay him $800,000, more than an 80 percent discount from the $4.35 million cap hit he was on the books for in Winnipeg . . . Alex Kerfoot, who played four years at center for Harvard, opted not to sign with Devils, who made him the 150th pick in the 2012 draft. Like Jimmy Vesey last year, Kerfoot exercised his UFA rights and instead hitched on with the Avalanche with a two-year entry deal. Ditto for high-profile Denver defenseman Will Butcher, once an Avalanche pick (No. 123th in 2013), who instead went to New Jersey for a guaranteed $1.85 million over the next two seasons . . . In a galaxy far, far away, the KHL opened its season Aug. 21, with St. Petersburg rubbing out CSKA Red Army, 4-2. Ilya Kovalchuk, rumored to be headed back to the NHL over the summer, connected for the winners. Pavel Datsyuk picked up a helper. Game on.