Ryan Donato got a taste of life in the pros, and now he wants more
Patrice Bergeron turned 33 on Tuesday, some six weeks before participating in his 15th Bruins training camp. When the full squad hits the ice in Brighton on Sept. 10, there will be little doubt about the No. 1 center, even after offseason groin surgery. He may need a few weeks to get up to speed, but Bergeron will be discussed in pregame strategy meetings leaguewide.
At some point, Bergeron will begin to decline. All players do, even 41-year-old Zdeno Chara (we assume, anyway). David Krejci (32) and Brad Marchand (30) are getting up there. David Pastrnak (22) has become a key part of the Bruins’ next forward core. Ryan Donato (22) hopes he takes a spot this year.
A speedy, opportunistic center-slash-wing, Donato had 9 points in 12 games after arriving from Harvard last March, the first of which was a give-and-go one-timer from the right circle against Columbus. While notching a few practice absences so he wouldn’t fall behind in his junior-year studies, he finished the season with the Bruins. He went scoreless in three playoff games, a rookie bit-player on the toughest stage. The lessons he learned from that stint, which ended with a second-round handshake line in Tampa, are significant.
“I know I can do it. I know I can perform. I know I can put pucks in the net,” said Donato. “I see how big and strong guys are, how fast they are, what they’re doing at the rinks to separate themselves through competition, so I’m doing those things and trying to do more than that as well.”
His father and coach at Harvard, former Bruin Ted Donato, notes how much more focused and knowledgeable today’s players are. “I don’t think these guys ever really get out of game shape,” he said. When he was a newcomer learning the Boston way from captain Ray Bourque and skilled setup man Adam Oates, some players took time away from the game. Now, he said, there’s hardly an offseason. The Cup champs party a little long, everyone else hits the gym too early.
It felt like that around Warrior Ice Arena in mid-May. Soon after the banged-up Bruins bowed out in five games to the Lightning, Donato was working out in Brighton with Bergeron, Marchand, Chara, and others. He joined a Foxborough-based training group with veterans like Brian Boyle, Kevin and Jimmy Hayes, and Kyle Palmieri at Edge Performance Systems. He skates with Bruins teammates at Warrior Ice Arena, his brother Jack at Harvard, and for the second year in a row, he has been invited to skate in the Foxboro Pro League, mixing it up with players in NHL, AHL, and European gear, plus several elite college prospects. He’s also taking summer classes at Harvard, expecting to soon earn his sociology degree.
In short, he has been active.
If Donato doesn’t stick in the league, his elders will be surprised, given their early impressions of his work ethic.
“I’m sure we’ll be seeing some big things from him,” said Palmieri, the New Jersey forward entering his ninth year, after a summer-league skate in Foxboro. “He’s surrounded by guys that have been through the same scenarios,” Palmieri said. “Whether he needs to lean on us or not, he looks like he’s got his head on straight. I can see him making an impact.”
The Bruins’ former No. 21 can be highly specific in guiding the current No. 17. At this point in Ryan’s career, his path is remarkably similar to his father’s.
In their final seasons at Harvard, they participated in the Olympics (Ted was the second-leading scorer for the Americans in Albertville ’92, Ryan led the US last spring in PyeongChang), then a promising-and-short run with the Bruins before the playoffs. Ted spent parts of nine years in Boston and scored 20 goals three times. He’s prepared to teach his son about the potential glories and pitfalls of playing in one’s hometown. “There isn’t a lot they don’t notice when you’re a local guy,” he said.
At present, Ryan enters his official rookie season a clear-cut fan favorite, especially after such a debut. He may later come to know what it’s like to be booed, traded, injured, waived, to be a veteran player, to retire . . . to have a career, be it here or elsewhere. Unspoken during recent interviews with the Globe, but obvious: He would like to learn how it feels to play in All-Star games and lift the Stanley Cup.
Camp begins in six weeks.
In his offseason training in Brighton, North Allston, and Foxborough, Donato (6 feet, 181 pounds) practices at center and handles the puck at both wings, in preparation for a to-be-determined role. Coach Bruce Cassidy could try the left-shot former college center as his No. 3 pivot, but it seems more likely Donato will get used to the speed of the game on the wing, competing for middle-six jobs with Anders Bjork, Jake DeBrusk, Peter Cehlarik, and Danton Heinen.
“The biggest lesson [right now] is seeing the size, the speed, and the speed of thought,” said Ted Donato, speaking by phone while watching a camp at his alma mater’s Bright-Landry Center. “The best players know where everyone is, very quickly. There’s a lot of freak athletes out there, with freakish size, strength, speed, elusiveness. They’re the best in the world. It’s a huge advantage to get exposed to that at the end of the season. You’re not fooled into thinking you’re at a comfortable level.”
After the 1992 Bruins were swept in the East finals by the Mario Lemieux-Jaromir Jagr Penguins, the elder Donato, from Dedham via Hyde Park, turned in a 15-20—35 line his first full 82. After the 1998 trade to the Islanders for Ken Belanger, he played with seven NHL clubs and returned home in 2004. His career ended when he broke his foot blocking a shot against Montreal in the playoffs. Three months later, he was named coach of the Crimson.
“One of the things he told me that stuck with me the most was, ‘You’ve got to do more than them,’ ” Ryan Donato said, speaking of his training partners. “I’m not saying I’m doing more than all those guys, but I’m trying my hardest to do whatever I can to push myself to hopefully be a consistent NHL player.”
Count Boyle as a believer.
“I know his character, his skill level, and how hard he’s working,” said Boyle, the former BC Eagle from Hingham who plays for the Devils. “Those are the three main ingredients. He’s got all of them. I don’t know what separates guys and what doesn’t. I’m not picking teams. But I’d put money on him to stick around for a while and have a great career.”
Picture of perseverance
Healthy Boyle ready for new year
Late in last Wednesday’s FPL game, Boyle was working on a hat trick, and spent time cruising between the red line and far blue line, hoping linemates Palmieri and Kevin Hayes would spring him for his third goal of the afternoon. Elsewhere, the big man did some light digging in the corners. He tried to set up tap-ins.
He went easy in that scrimmage, his first of the offseason. He will be more ready than ever to ramp it up when the time is right.
“Obviously I feel a hell of a lot better than I did last summer,” he said.
A year ago, his workouts were half-speed, half-enthusiasm. By August, he was struggling to get out of bed. Training-camp tests revealed chronic myeloid leukemia, a form of blood and bone cancer. Doctors treated it with medicine, rather than chemotherapy. He missed training camp and returned Nov. 1 to continue writing his inspirational story.
He scored 10 goals in his first 25 games and was named an All-Star Game replacement for the injured Taylor Hall. He heard thunderous ovations in Tampa, where he spent the previous two-plus seasons. He finished 13-10—23 in 69 games.
All the while, as he and his wife Lauren revealed in December, their 2-year-old son Declan was being treated for an arteriorvenous malformation in his jaw, a condition that causes pressure and pain and necessitated several surgeries. Doctors originally believed he had Ewing’s Sarcoma, a rare form of aggressive cancer. It was a scary time for the Boyles.
Declan’s condition is under control. Boyle has had no remission. “Two weeks on medicine and I was fine again,” he said. “Been fine ever since.” Life feels normal again. He works out in Foxboro and returns home to spend time with Declan, 3, and Isabella, 1.
At 33, the 12-year veteran has one year left on his contract. Boyle has between 13 and 15 goals in each of the last five years. Tucking closer to 20 would ensure a comfortable deal.
“I’d like to play as long as I can,” he said.
Hall, the engine that powered New Jersey’s surprise playoff run, was the MVP. Boyle was the heart.
In June, Boyle won the Bill Masterton Trophy, given to the NHL player who best exemplifies perseverance.
“How he carried himself and how his family made it through those unimaginable times, all that adversity, not only him but his son going in and out of the hospital, it was incredible,” Palmieri said. “He was a huge inspiration to us.”
End of the line
Iginla to retire as Calgary’s leader
Monday, the Flames will host a retirement ceremony for Jarome Iginla, celebrating the franchise leader in goals (525), points (1,095) and games played (1,219). They’ll roll plenty of footage of the 2004 Stanley Cup Final, with Iginla, the first-year captain, at the peak of his truculent power. Hard to forget him trading punches with fellow superstar Vincent Lecavalier in a series tied, 1-1.
Iginla, who scored 30 in his only season in Boston, was given approval to practice with Providence last February, hoping at age 40 to get another shot. No takers, so Iginla retired at No. 15 on the all-time goals list (625). Only Marcel Dionne (731 goals) and Mike Gartner (708) raised their arms more without raising a Cup. Among inactive 500-goal scorers, only Keith Tkachuk, Pat Verbeek, Pierre Turgeon, Jeremy Roenick, and Peter Bondra are not in the Hall. Iginla should get the call.
In terms of resume and results, he was the best everyday right wing David Krejci has had. Riding with Iginla and Milan Lucic in 2013-14, Krejci had a team-high 69 points (his most since he had Michael Ryder and Blake Wheeler on the wings in 2008-09). Iginla had plenty left in the tank.
Former GM Peter Chiarelli thought he had a deal in place for Iginla at the 2013 deadline, with the two-time 50-goal scorer in the last year of his Calgary deal. He was set to surrender Alexander Khokhlachev, Matt Bartkowski, and a first-round pick that summer. Iginla chased a Cup with Pittsburgh instead. Boston traded two other prospects (Lane MacDermid, Cody Payne) and the first-rounder to Dallas for Jaromir Jagr. Results: swept the Penguins in the East finals, fell to Chicago in the Cup Final.
No hard feelings, obviously. Iginla signed a bonus-laden deal that summer ($1.8 million in salary, $4.2 million in bonuses) and became the first RW to score 30 for Boston in five years (Phil Kessel, 36 in 2008-09). He extended his Cup drought when the Bruins dropped a second-round series to Montreal. Iginla signed one more deal (three years, $16 million with Colorado) and finished his career in Los Angeles. Before he retired, his family settled in Chestnut Hill.
Night in, night out
Marchand the top point producer
Here’s another measure of Brad Marchand’s dominance as a scorer last season: He was the most consistent night-in, night-out Bruin point producer in more than a decade.
Marchand, who scored 85 points in 68 games, registered a goal or assist in 48 of them, according to Dobber Hockey. In 2007-08, Marc Savard scored or helped in 53 of 74 games, a 71.6 percent mark that bests Marchand’s 70.6. Among regulars leaguewide last year, Marchand had the seventh-best percentage of games with a point. The others:
75.6% — Claude Giroux, PHI - 82 GP - 101 pts - 62 GP with a point
75.0% — Nikita Kucherov, TB - 80 GP - 100 pts - 60 GP with a point
75.0% — Taylor Hall, NJ, 76 GP - 93 pts - 57 GP with a point
73.1% — Evgeni Malkin, PIT, 78 GP - 98 pts - 57 GP with a point
72.0% — Anze Kopitar, LA, 82 GP, 92 pts - 59 GP with a point
70.7% — Connor McDavid, EDM, 82 GP, 108 pts - 58 GP with a point
70.6% — Brad Marchand, BOS, 68 GP, 85 pts - 48 GP with a point
Mike Grier charged from Holliston and St. Sebastian’s to Commonwealth Avenue, then to four NHL stops, leaving a trail of bruised opponents along the way. Trailblazer? Yes. One day, he might become the first African-American head coach in league history. The Devils this week named Grier, 43, an assistant to John Hynes, his former BU teammate. The rugged winger, who retired in 2011 after playing in Edmonton, Washington, Buffalo, and San Jose, will become the second black assistant behind an NHL bench. The other is Paul Jerrard (Calgary). Grier, who coached at St. Seb’s and the Boston Jr. Terriers program, is behind the bench this summer at the Foxboro Pro Development League . . . Two more assistants you may know: Ted Donato’s ex-mates John Gruden (Islanders) and Dean Chynoweth (Carolina). The trio played four games together with the Bruins in Feb. 1996 . . . Jerry Keefe, of Saugus, will be an assistant coach for the US junior team this year, culminating with the World Junior Championship in the Vancouver area beginning Dec. 26. Keefe enters his eighth year as a Northeastern assistant . . . Valuing grit and leadership at a discount price, Washington brought back defenseman Brooks Orpik, 37, on a one-year deal worth $1 million. Savvy maneuvering by the Cup champs, who wheeled the ex-BC Eagle’s expiring $5.5 million deal to Colorado in order to make room for big-ticket blueliner John Carlson in advance of July 1. The Caps made Carlson, then a restricted free agent, the game’s highest-paid defenseman in 2018-19 ($12 million salary, $8 million cap hit). The Avs, who got the goalie they wanted (Philipp Grubauer) and gave up a second-round pick in the trade, did what Caps GM Brian McClellan wouldn’t: They bought out Orpik’s final year, adding $2.5 million to this year’s cap and $1.5 for next year, freeing Orpik to return and mentor young d-man Christian Djoos . . . The Travis Roy Foundation’s annual Wiffleball tournament is Aug. 10-12 in Essex, Vt., all funds going to benefit those with spinal cord injuries. Last year’s event raised more than $585,000, the second-highest total in the tourney’s 16-year history. Visit travisroyfoundation.org.