BOSTON - Patrice Bergeron remembers the little squirt that used to join the Bruins for a skate now and again during his rookie season. Back in 2003-04, Ted Donato was in the midst of his final NHL campaign and frequently brought his young son Ryan out for a spin at the end of practice.
Some 15 years later, Ryan Donato was back out for another twirl with Bergeron. This time, though, it was Donato who was playing the role of rookie and Bergeron the veteran.
"Doesn't make me feel any younger. When I was an 18-year-old coming in I was playing with his dad," said Bergeron, who re-joined his teammates on Monday morning for his first skate since fracturing his right foot. "That first year he was skating in practice out there as a young kid. Now he's in the locker room and he's gonna be part of the team, it's definitely different.
"Comes from a great family…his dad was so nice to me from training camp on. I felt pretty lucky to have great veterans like I did and I'll try to do the same thing for them."
Donato, signed to a two-year, entry-level contract on Sunday, will make his NHL debut on Monday night against the Columbus Blue Jackets, with the 21-year-old Scituate native deciding to forego his senior season at Harvard and make the jump to his hometown team.
"It's a dream come true," said Donato, who was playing for his father at Harvard. "Even just going on right there for the skate, it just didn't feel real yet. It's odd to get used to. But it was a lot of fun.
"It's a whirlwind experience obviously. Right now it's pretty crazy. Obviously I'm really excited. It's something that I don't want to happen too fast so I can cherish every second of it."
Video: Donato speaks ahead of NHL debut
The Hobey Baker finalist will begin his career on the left wing, riding alongside Noel Acciari and Brian Gionta, who captained Donato and Team USA at the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea.
"He was unreal," Gionta said of Donato's five-goal, six-point Olympic performance. "He was probably our best player over there. Extremely composed, great shot, great release, great hockey sense. It will all equate well to this level as well."
Donato, who will wear No. 17, is pleased to be teammates once again with Gionta, a player - and person - he tries to emulate.
"Gio's the best, honestly. He's a great guy," said Donato. "Obviously he's a veteran and a guy that I look up to and I think he's done a great job being one of those guys if I need anything or have any questions I can talk to him and he's been great."
Bruins coach Bruce Cassidy believes his team's current situation will help Donato during his adjustment period. With Boston well within the postseason structure and about to hit the road for another lengthy four-game road trip - against teams in or around the playoff picture - Donato will get an immediate taste of the intensity of the NHL's home stretch.
"The set up I think is advantageous in terms of he's coming into a good culture, a winning team. The expectations are to play your game, we're not expecting to do anymore than that," said Cassidy. "Columbus is a good team, they've won seven in a row, they'll be hungry.
"We're going on a trip where every team is in the playoffs or fighting for position. He'll get a real good taste of intense hockey. Hopefully he's up for the challenge. We believe he is, but until it plays out on the ice it's exciting but also a bit of an unknown."
Video: B's prospect Donato signed to entry-level contract
Donato will also have plenty of familiar faces around him to help him feel acclimated. In addition to Gionta, he will be able to bond with a bevy of fellow rookies, as he becomes the fifth Bruin to make his NHL debut this season.
"He's been to Development Camps with the [Danton] Heinens and [Sean] Kuralys, [Matt Grzelcyk], so he's going to have some people to lean on that have gone through similar things that he's gonna go through here," said Cassidy. "I think that's an advantage to have other young guys around him, not just more of a proven group that he feels he can't talk to."
The 6-foot, 181-pound left shot will certainly get his share of opportunity. Donato saw time on Boston's first power-play unit during morning skate, manning the bumper position usually occupied by Bergeron.
"He's a great player, he's got great hands, a great shot, great to have him in the mix," said Bergeron. "We've talked about that as a team, the young guys, youth, has been amazing for us this year and we're trying to show them how to be professionals and he's going to fit in perfectly with the rest of the guys."
Donato will join his father Ted as the sixth father-son duo to suit up for the Black & Gold, joining Bill and Harvey Bennett, Ab Sr. and Ab Jr. DeMarco, Ron and John Grahame, Ken D. and Ken R. Hodge, and Ray and Chris Bourque.
"It's a pretty special moment to have your first NHL game. It will pretty cool for him," said Gionta. "Obviously his dad with the history he has in the organization, it will be even more special for him. Hopefully he's able to step back and appreciate it."
That will certainly be the goal.
"I just want to play well and do whatever I can to help the team," said Donato. "There's not many things that have been said to me, I just know that I have to go in confident and do what I can to help. At the end of the day, it's just hockey, I've been doing it my whole life, so hopefully I can do it to the best of my abilities tonight."
Video: Donato makes his Bruins debut Monday against Columbus