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Flames' prospect continues to garner praise as he works hard to develop his game

by GEORGE JOHNSON @GJohnsonFlames /

Over a 796-game NHL career spanning 13 pro seasons, Ted Donato enjoyed the good fortune of lining up alongside a sampling of the most accomplished defencemen of the day, and later, of the ages.

The peerless Ray Bourque in Boston, for starters. A skyscraping, unrefined 21-year-old hailing from Trencin, Slovakia, later known as The Big Z, Zdeno Chara, on Long Island.

Hall of Famer Brian Leetch at MSG. Shifty Sergei Zubov in Big D.

In his star pupil of today, sophomore Adam Fox, Donato sees glimpses, detects traces, hints, of some of those touchstone defenders.

They, of course, are finished products, recognizable brands.

Fox, at 20, is only getting started.

 "Adam,'' reckons Donato, in his 14th season coaching his alma mater, the Harvard Crimson, "is certainly a unique player.

"For instance, he reads the play exceptionally well. In that regard - and I don't mean to compare him to anybody - at times he does remind me a little of Brian Leech, able to see things open up before they actually happen.

"That's something natural. Something instinctive. Something that, as a coach, makes you end up saying to the other defencemen: 'Please don't try that at home.'

"Some of the deception, the false information he gives off reminds me of Sergei Zubov when I was in Dallas. (Zubov) was just super-clever.

"Adam's progressing the way you'd hope, you'd expect, for a player of his abilities."

Fox and the Crimson lost their first game of a best-of-three, weekend ECAC quarter-final Friday evening 4-1 to the Big Green of Dartmouth but are no doubt still a confident bunch.

"We've put ourselves in good position, giving ourselves home ice and that bye last week to rest up,'' says the Flames' third pick of the 2016 entry draft earlier in the week. "It should be a good series, Dartmouth was right behind us.

"Obviously this year, I was trying to come into more of a leadership role, trying to improve certain aspects of my game, round out to more of a full 200-foot player.

"I've been blocking a lot more shots, relied on more on the penalty kill.

"I think it's gone pretty well but obviously there's still a long way to go. There are still a lot of kinks in my game I need to work out."

Spend any time whatsoever in the game, and dealing with disappointment will happen. After claiming gold at the world junior championships a year ago, Fox and the U.S. were tripped up this January by Sweden 4-2 at the semifinal hurdle, settling for bronze medals after a 9-3 dismantling of the Czech Republic.

"We've all heard the term 'world junior hangover' thrown around,'' acknowledges Fox. "At first it hurts a little bit but you've got to shift your focus right away and get back into the (collegiate) season. You can't dwell on things.

"I was lucky to have had the experience I did last year.

"You're playing seven games in 10 days, or whatever, so your body's a little worn down but this year I didn't play in that game coming back on the weekend so I was more rested."

All three of the weekend Dartmouth games will be contested at the cozy, familiar confines of Bright-Landry Hockey Center on Harvard campus.

"The first half of the year we were trying to find an identity,'' admits Fox. "I mean, last year we had a strong senior class leading the way. This year we had to rely more on sophomores and freshmen to carry the load.

"Guys were kinda figuring out their roles but now. I think we're just hitting our stride."

Fox, too.

"Last year,'' praises Donato, "he made great strides. This year he's become an even better defender. While his skating's not always easy on the eyes I think that's an underrated part of his game. He's defended against some of the best players in our league, and very well.

"As a young defenceman it takes times to recognize when there's a play and when to cut your losses. His play selection has improved. And this is a guy who can make a lot of plays.

"He's had to manage the game differently than last year when we had an older, more experienced group. More has been put on his plate. He's played big minutes but not just in offensive situations. I don't think we've scored as much as we did last year as a team and our powerplay didn't click at as high a rate but he's having another excellent year.

"We put a lot of faith and trust in him. We leaned a lot on Adam throughout the season.

"And will again in these playoffs."

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