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Men's Ice Hockey Coach Ted Donato ’91 Named to Boston Bruins "Historic 100" List

Harvard head coach Ted Donato (second from right), Faculty Fellow William Alford (left), and Faculty Fellow Tim Brown (right) pose with Nathan Krusko, the team's captain in 2019-2020, at the squad's media day in October 2019.
Harvard head coach Ted Donato (second from right), Faculty Fellow William Alford (left), and Faculty Fellow Tim Brown (right) pose with Nathan Krusko, the team's captain in 2019-2020, at the squad's media day in October 2019. By Timothy R. O'Meara
By Bridget T. Sands, Crimson Staff Writer

“I was at a friend's house at a swimming pool and I got a phone call and it was, ‘Hey you get drafted by the Bruins,’” Harvard men’s hockey coach Ted Donato ’91 recalled of the moment he was selected by the NHL’s Boston Bruins in the 1987 draft.

“It was really special – it was so far-fetched and unrealistic that I don't feel like I'm stretching the truth when I said I would have, at the time, rather be selected by the Bruins in the fifth round than any other team in the third round.”

Now, in 2023, the Boston Bruins organization is celebrating its 100th year in the National Hockey League. In commemoration, the franchise announced its “Historic 100”, a list of the 100 players who the organization considers to be the “most legendary players in franchise history.”

Among the many legendary players honored, including Bobby Orr and Patrice Bergeron, is Donato.

“Just seeing all the great Bruins that I watched when I was a kid, the more recent Bruins, who won the Stanley Cup, also exciting to see them [on the list]. Playing for the Bruins alone is something that I feel incredibly honored to do as someone that grew up in this area and dreamed of playing for the Bruins someday – that was special enough,” Donato reflected on his honor.

“[The Historic 100] is really an incredible opportunity to celebrate so many great players throughout the years.”

Entering his 20th year coaching the men’s ice hockey team, Donato recently added the title honor of The James Herscot '58 Coach of Excellence for his leadership and commitment to his players on and off the ice. Donato once donned the Crimson sweater himself, from 1987 to 1991.

Born in 1969, Donato’s love of hockey was a product of the time. The Dedham, Mass. native was quite young during the success of the “Big Bad Bruins” in the early 70s, but the impact the local team left shaped his childhood immensely.

“I'm certainly a product of the Big Bad Bruins and the emergence, after Bobby Orr, of hockey locally – a lot of public skating rinks and so [on],” Donato commented. “I think the game was just starting to take off in the early 70s locally.”

As he grew up, the hockey renaissance continued, both in the Boston area and nationally.

“The Miracle on Ice was a huge sports moment in my lifetime,” he said.

Donato was 10 years old when the group of collegiate players representing Team USA upset the gold-medal favorite Soviet Union to advance to the championship game at the 1980 Winter Olympics, in what many consider not only a historic moment of national pride during the Cold War but the event that put hockey on the map.

“I remember watching Bobby Carpenter, he was on the cover of Sports Illustrated as ‘The Can't-Miss Kid.’ That was a big moment – for a local kid to potentially go high in the draft,” Donato said.

Carpenter had his feature in 1981, when, in the same article, he was deemed to be “the best high school hockey player in America.” Only six years younger than Carpenter, Donato grew up a couple towns over, and felt the local buzz the first-rounder created.

As hockey continued to grow, and Donato himself continued to develop as a player, he didn’t even consider the thought of making it to the NHL. At the time, the norm was that professional players would be recruited to organizations directly out of high school, skipping collegiate hockey completely.

“I think for me… it wasn't like it was an entirely realistic dream to think you were gonna play for the Boston Bruins... A few guys that were just a couple of years old, were really the first wave of guys that really made that transition from college hockey to the Olympics and then on to the NHL,” Donato explained.

Such prior thought of inconceivability made Donato’s selection by his local team, and career in the NHL, even more personally significant.

“I can't tell you there were a lot of people that would have told me I was sane for thinking that I could play in the National Hockey League. And so, it was really special to be able to wear the Bruins jersey and play in that organization,” he remarked.

Just after Donato was drafted by the Bruins in June of 1987, he reported to Cambridge for his freshman year. In his four seasons with the Crimson, from 1987-88 to 1990-91, Donato made history within the Harvard hockey program.

Donato was a pivotal member of the 1989 team that won Harvard its first and only NCAA Championship. In his sophomore season, the left wing established himself as an indispensable member of the Crimson’s second line. He continued his success into the NCAA playoffs, scoring three goals and two assists, enough to award him the honor of Most Outstanding Player of the Frozen Four Tournament, as well as a spot on the All-Tournament team. Donato netted two goals in Harvard’s overtime win in the championship game against the University of Minnesota– the first to tie the game at 1-1 early in the second period, and later to take a 3-2 lead in the third.

Not just in 1989, but throughout his entire career in crimson, the All-ECAC and All-Ivy forward was an indispensable scoring unit, and still sits 12th on the Harvard’s all time scoring with 50 goals and 94 assists for a total of 144 points. Donato was named the captain of the 1990-91 team, and he received the Ralph "Cooney" Weiland Award for spirit and devotion to Harvard hockey in 1991.

After his graduation in the spring of 1991, Donato joined the U.S. men’s national hockey team. He donned red, white, and blue, proudly representing his country for the 1992 Winter Olympics in Albertville, France. In the team’s fourth place finish, Donato tied for leading the United States in points, with four goals and three assists over eight games.

As soon as he returned to the States, Donato signed his rookie contract with the Bruins. He was added to the roster right before the team’s 1991-1992 playoff run, and immediately began contributing. In the 10 games prior to the start of the playoffs, he scored a goal and two assists.

However, the playoffs were where the rookie really shone.

The Bruins faced division-mates the Buffalo Sabres in the first round, eventually taking them down in seven games in a first-to-four series. Playing in all seven games, Donato scored two goals and one assist. The first goal came in Game Three, when Donato opened the scoring in a 3-2 Bruins win. The second, however, was a double-overtime winner in Game Four – a moment that Donato will never forget.

“I think back to joining the Bruins after the Olympics, and then scoring a goal in double overtime against Buffalo in the playoffs. I remember pretty vividly coming home, to my parents house, because I hadn't even gotten a place yet because I just got back from the Olympics. We had played in Buffalo, the game went to double overtime, and then we flew back to Boston, so [I] probably got into bed at three o'clock in the morning or two o'clock,” Donato recalled.

“I woke up at like, 5:30 in the morning and looked over to make sure that my suit clothes were thrown on the side of the bed because it seemed almost like a dream that I would have the chance to be sharing the same ice as guys like Ray Borque and others,” he added.

Harvard head coach Ted Donato (left) shares a light moment with his team and fellow coaches during a timeout against St. Lawrence on March 7, 2020.
Harvard head coach Ted Donato (left) shares a light moment with his team and fellow coaches during a timeout against St. Lawrence on March 7, 2020. By Timothy R. O'Meara

The Bruins breezed past the Montreal Canadiens in the second round in four games, but then ultimately fell to the Pittsburgh Penguins in the Conference Finals. Donato played in all eight of the additional playoff games, adding another goal and two more assists.

Following his abbreviated debut wearing the Spoked-B in spring 1992, Donato made the Bruins’ opening day roster for the 1992-93 season the following fall. Donato remained a consistent member of the Bruins’ forward force for the subsequent six seasons, posting 112 goals and 139 assists for a total of 251 points in 451 games played from 1992-93 to 1997-98.

Not soon into his eighth season in Boston, Donato was traded to the New York Islanders for Ken Belanger, in a left-wing exchange of the two teams.

After he was traded to the Isles, Donato never played for one organization for an elongated period through the remainder of his career. Before the end of the 1998-99 season, he was wearing an Ottawa Senators jersey, the Canadian team having traded for him as a boost for their playoff run. He later spent time with the Mighty Ducks of Anaheim in 1999-2000, the Dallas Stars in 2000-01, then was in the minor leagues before organization hopping among the Islanders, Los Angeles Kings, and St. Louis Blues in 2001-02, and signed with the New York Rangers organization for 2002-03.

Donato’s last NHL season was 2003-04. Knowing his time in the league was dwindling, when considering his options, there was only one real choice as to who he was going to sign with.

“I enjoyed playing on the Bruins immensely. I loved being local. I loved playing in front of the Boston Garden fans. It was an incredible experience,” Donato recalled fondly.

He signed with Boston as a free agent, spending the majority of the season with the Bruins, but also a handful of games with their AHL affiliate, the Providence Bruins. In his final 63 games with the NHL club, he recorded six goals and five assists in 63 games, while also appearing on the roster for its playoff run.

“To have that opportunity later in my career to kind of come full circle and play in Boston – at that time I could already see the end of the road not too far away – and to have a chance to come back and play for the Bruins again, play with guys like Donny Sweeney and Ray Borque again, and [to play with] Patrice Bergeron, as it turns out, that was a very cool experience.”

Though having the opportunity to potentially extend his contract with the Bruins after the 2003-04 NHL season, Donato decided to hang up his own skates, in pursuit of another job, this time one behind the bench.

In July 2004, Donato was announced as the 13th head coach of his alma mater. Donato emphasized his respect and relationship with Bill Cleary, his own head coach when he played at Harvard, as decisive in his pursuit of the role.

“I think I've been incredibly fortunate to be at the right place at the right time in some scenarios and to have been blessed to be coached by some amazing people. Coach Cleary at Harvard was an incredible coach. I had such an enjoyable experience while I was at Harvard. I think the blueprint for what kind of perspective [a] college hockey coach should have was pretty clear in Coach Cleary,” Donato reflected.

Harvard head coach Ted Donato at a postgame press conference after the Crimson beat Yale 7-0 on January 11, 2020 at Madison Square Garden.
Harvard head coach Ted Donato at a postgame press conference after the Crimson beat Yale 7-0 on January 11, 2020 at Madison Square Garden. By Timothy R. O'Meara

He further explained his intentions of settling down with his family, as well as how his personal experience with Harvard, made the opportunity a perfect fit.

“At the time I had moved quite a bit during my hockey career, so to be able to come back, not have my family have to be moving as much and obviously, the special feelings I had for Harvard, really made it just an incredible opportunity.”

During his time as coach, Harvard has posted a 298–240–66 (.548) record, has made eight NCAA Tournament appearances, won four ECAC Championships and Ivy League titles, and made seven consecutive appearances in the ECAC Championship Tournament. Harvard’s 2023-24 team was ranked #15 in all of collegiate men’s hockey in the preseason polls.

He has had the opportunity to coach dozens of players that have gone onto have their own NHL careers. Most recently, four members of last year’s team, Henry Thrun, Alex Laferriere, Matthew Coronato, and Sean Farrell have all made their NHL debuts. Other former players now in the NHL include Adam Fox, Jack Drury, Alexander Kerfoot, and Colin Blackwell.

Perhaps most special for Donato has been the opportunity to coach members of his own family at Harvard. His son Ryan played for Harvard from 2015-18, his son Jack from 2017-22, and his nephew John Farinacci from 2019-23.

Both Ryan Donato and Farinacci have continued their hockey careers post college. Ryan was drafted by the Boston Bruins in the second round of the 2014 NHL draft, signing with and joining the team at the end of his 2018 collegiate season. He now is a member of the Chicago Blackhawks. Farinacci was drafted by the Arizona Coyotes in the third round of the 2019 NHL draft, but after completing four years of collegiate hockey, elected to become a free agent in August 2023 and signed an entry-level contract with the Bruins not long after. He currently plays for the Providence Bruins.

“I think it's pretty neat,” Donato commented on Farinacci’s signing, continuing his family’s relationship with the organization.

“I think the Bruins have not only done a great job with producing stars, but they've also developed young players along the way as well. I think it's a tremendous opportunity for John to start his pro career and in an organization that has a pretty strong record of developing guys. And, we hope that it works out really well and John has a chance to ultimately be a Boston Bruin.”

During the season, the Bruins are celebrating their 100th year anniversary in a myriad of ways, including special jerseys, games that honor specific eras, and more. Though Donato doesn’t know if and when he will be honored at a game, he is taken aback by the recognition.

“There's definitely a special and unique connection to those who have had a chance to wear the ‘Spoked- B. It's something that I think people take great pride in and it's looked at as a badge of honor. It’s such a great collection of people that have won that uniform and played for that organization. So, it's great to be a part of it.”

— Staff writer Bridget T. Sands can be reached at Follow her on Twitter at @BridgSands.

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