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Donato learning about offseason commitment from Bruins veterans

Forward prospect began workouts shortly after playoff elimination

by Amalie Benjamin @AmalieBenjamin / Staff Writer

FOXBOROUGH, Mass. -- Ryan Donato strolled into Warrior Ice Arena full of confidence, perhaps even a bit of hubris. There he was, in the middle of May, and he was already hitting the gym at the Boston Bruins practice facility, already getting himself ready to make a push for a permanent spot on the roster starting in training camp.

It was only a week and a half after the Bruins were knocked out in the Eastern Conference Second Round by the Tampa Bay Lightning, barely time for the NHL mainstays to reset and reintroduce themselves to their families.

"I came in expecting me to be the only guy there, and those guys were like, 'Where have you been?'" Donato said. "They were giving me a hard time."

Because there they were: Zdeno Chara, Patrice Bergeron, Brad Marchand.

"As a young guy, you want to be a guy that's around the rinks early to prove a point," Donato said. "When I got there the first day, [Marchand], Bergeron and Chara were all working out. I wasn't shocked. I was happy. I was like, 'Wow, this is really what it means truly to be a pro.'"

It was illuminating.

The 22-year-old forward played 12 games at the end of the season, bursting onto the scene with a goal and two assists in his NHL debut March 19 against the Columbus Blue Jackets, three days after his season ended at Harvard. He finished with nine points (five goals, four assists). He played three games in the Stanley Cup Playoffs, mostly watching and wishing he were on the ice as the Bruins defeated the Toronto Maple Leafs in the first round before losing to the Lightning.

Video: Ryan Donato talks offseason training, summer plans

That was why he was there so early. He wanted to push. He wanted to show up.

He was met with the reality that what he assumed was extra was, in fact, what it took.

"I think it's a big eye-opener when you come in," Marchand said, noting that Chara began working out three days after the season ended.

It was something Marchand also had to learn.

For the first few seasons after he entered the NHL, he would take about a month off, relax and get away from the game. But he found he was playing catch-up for the rest of the summer. He noticed the veterans, the stars, taking a week off, maybe two, then returning to workouts, starting their programs, correcting their weaknesses.

He knew he needed to adjust.

"The top players seem to work harder in the offseason than during the regular season," Marchand said. "Once you buy into that mentality, it really allows you to improve your game over the summertime."

And while the veterans are working on their games, their strength, their conditioning, they're taking note of which players show up, and which don't. They notice, and it matters.

"Some guys get it. Some guys don't," Marchand said. "You come in every year and you see guys that have been around for a couple seasons and they start to understand what it takes. Some guys don't get it, and those are the guys that tend to maybe play a couple games then not ever get an opportunity or just don't seem to be able to get to the next level."

Video: How the Bruins are looking for the 2018-19 campaign

It was a process that Donato's father, Ted, had gone through in the early 1990s when he was breaking into the NHL, also with the Bruins, also out of Harvard. Except instead of Chara, Bergeron and Marchand, he was learning from Ray Bourque and Dave Poulin and Adam Oates and Cam Neely.

"For me to watch Ray Bourque practice and see the passion and energy and excitement he put in every day to practice, that was an eye-opener to me in a positive way to say, you know what, this guy loves the game, he loves to practice every day, it's not a chore for him," said Ted Donato, the coach at Harvard. "When you see great players like that put that kind of commitment level into it, it's pretty easy to know that you better dial it in if you want to have success at that level."

Desire isn't enough. Want isn't enough. There's just work.

"You see the commitment and sacrifices that those guys make and you'd be foolish not to use that as motivation to try to elevate your own level of commitment," Ted Donato said.

It's the difference between college and the pros, between hockey as a sport and hockey as a profession, a lesson Ryan Donato learned as soon as he walked into Warrior Ice Arena that first day, while other teams were still playing hockey and his was not.

"It just goes to show that it's a job now," Donato said. "You've got to do everything you can. It's different because you always think that the guys that aren't the most talented are always going to be the guys that work the hardest, where at this level the guys that are the most talented are also working the hardest."

Donato is bridging the gap. He is not yet an established NHL player, but he has gotten a taste. He does not know where he'll be playing in October when the Bruins open their season, but there are opportunities in the top six, opportunities to be won with effort and work.

He does not want to lose any opportunity, and anything he can do, he will do. That was why he asked the veterans what days they would be at the facility and why he has shown up. That's why he started playing in the Foxboro Pro League as soon as it opened, long before most of the established NHL players arrived. That's why he finds available ice wherever he can, at Warrior, with his brother Jack at Harvard, on local rinks, shooting on his own and practicing taking pucks off the boards on the left and right wing.

As he put it, "You have all the tools in front of you. It's a matter of going out and using them."

His eyes are open now. He sees what his teammates do, where they go, when they arrive, and he's willing to put the work in.

"The kids that are really eager to make it and that are really driven, they just kind of buy in," Marchand said. "Donato's actually a really good example. He was around for a little bit there at the end of the year. I didn't know the way that he trained or what his dedication level was, but I will say I've been very impressed with the way that he's shown up every single day since the start of the summer.

"For a young kid to come in and to do that, to buy into training right away, you've got to give him a lot of credit. I really respect that of him and I've been impressed by that. Those are the kids that you know will make it."

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