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Bruins prospect Donato eager to uphold family name

by Matt Kalman

WILMINGTON, Mass. -- It's a challenge for any athlete to live up to the reputation forged by a father who's excelled at sports' highest level.

For Boston Bruins prospect Ryan Donato, the challenges don't end there.

Boston's second-round pick (No. 56) in the 2014 NHL Draft, Donato attended Bruins development camp at Ristuccia Arena and has to follow in the footsteps of his father, Ted Donato, who played in 796 NHL games, including more than 500 with the Bruins.

Not only is Ryan competing for the same organization that drafted his father in the fifth round (No. 98) of the 1987 draft, but the Massachusetts native was raised in the area and last season attended the Dexter School in Brookline, Mass.

It all adds up to some mighty high expectations for the 18-year-old.

"It is a little bit of a pressure. But I think growing up I had that a little bit, just having my name being Donato and being associated with my dad a little bit, it gives me some pressure," Ryan said. "But I've been dealing with it since I've been young, so I know how to deal with it now."

Ryan has learned how to utilize that pressure as a positive. With a name like Donato, the 6-foot, 175-pound prospect knows he always has to be on his best behavior. His father doesn't think all that pressure will be a detriment to his son.

"I think it's a unique situation, but one that's very exciting," said Ted, who is entering his 11th season as the hockey coach at Harvard University. "I think Ryan recognizes that there's a lot of work between here and there. But obviously to get drafted by the hometown team and to grow up as a Bruins fan his whole life is special."

If Ryan had even the slightest thought about his name buying him some leniency from his hometown team, it was wiped out during the interview process before the draft. The Bruins were reportedly hard on him about weaknesses in his game and challenged his demeanor.

Ryan obviously passed the Bruins' tests.

"It was brought to my attention that we did challenge him in the interview in terms of the type of player and gaps in his game," said Bruins assistant general manager Don Sweeney, who played with Ted Donato with the Bruins and at Harvard. "Most times you have to call a spade a spade. You've seen a player play and you have to get him to understand he has areas of his game that he has to work on. The best part about that is they have probably heard it from their dad who's been through that experience.

"These players I think have a different perspective when they have respect for how hard and difficult it is to get there but they have a confidence about their own game, I think, where they fit in themselves and what their skill set is."

The Bruins decided Ryan was the pick for them. That was reassuring for the entire family because of Boston's recent on-ice triumphs and the familiarity they have with Sweeney, Bruins general manager Peter Chiarelli, who is a Harvard alum, and others in the organization.

"I think just the track record, the quality of people around the organization, their level of success that they've had, just the quality of people, is an exciting attraction for anybody," Ted said. "But for me especially, it's been something that's been great."

Ryan committed over the winter to follow his dad to Harvard in 2015 and completed his junior season with Dexter, where he led New England prep school hockey with 78 points (37 goals, 41 assists) in 30 games. With the tense draft process behind him, Ryan has a major decision coming up by the end of this summer: He can return to Dexter or he can join the Omaha Lancers of the United States Hockey League.

The choice between prep school and junior hockey takes into account several factors, including academics and his development as a player. He's hoping to hammer out a decision after development camp.

"I went out there [to Omaha] for a week and I saw what it was like. It was beautiful out there and I loved every second of it," Ryan said. "So I think it's just going to benefit me if I go out there. But I've just got to make the right decision because of school too."

Sweeney said, "Does the organization obviously have an opinion? Yeah, and we are going to share that with him as to what we think is best for his overall development both as a hockey player and personally, and make hopefully what we think is a collective decision. As I said, the family has the power to say yay or nay, but I think you should be in lockstep with each other ... and we're going to support whatever the decision is, but I think we certainly will be out in front of it as to what we think is best with Ryan."

Wherever he winds up, Ryan wants to add strength and explosiveness to his game. Whatever he does, he'll be doing it to make progress toward an NHL career and to uphold the Donato name.

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