Harvard head coach Ted Donato (Hyde Park, Mass.) is the guest on the newest episode of the RinkWise podcast.
Raised in a hockey family, Donato was a state champion at Catholic Memorial High School before the Boston Bruins drafted him in 1987. He went on to spend four years at Harvard University, where he won a national title in 1989 and captained the 1990-91 Crimson squad.
He spent most of the 1991-92 season on the U.S. National Team and competed at the 1992 Winter Olympic Games in Albertville, France. Signing with Boston after the Olympics, he embarked on a 12-year NHL career with the Bruins and seven other teams before returning home to finish things out in 2003.
After retiring from the NHL, he was named head coach at Harvard in 2004, and is entering his 19th season in Cambridge.
He joins Matt Keator and Kirk Luedeke to talk about growing up a multi-sport athlete from a big family, his path to Harvard and the NHL, coaching his alma mater, and much more.
From the podcast:
On how being from a family with four boys fed into his love of hockey:
So, we were a sports family… we played baseball, whatever season it was, we played. But hockey in particular, I’m probably part of the Bobby Orr generation, when all of a sudden MDC ranks started to pop up across Massachusetts. We were lucky enough to have one in Hyde Park. I watched my older brothers. We played street hockey, we played a sport that would be foreign now. Now, it would be mini-sticks, but we called it hand hockey. We played with a sock in our hands and it was full-contact. And we played Beanpot games. You know, we’d introduce each other. We had four boys. So when mom and dad went out on a Saturday night for a pizza, all bets were off in the house. It was, you know, the Bruins game. Come on. And if you remember the old intro to the Bruins, it was pretty electrifying.
On playing at Harvard for Bill Cleary:
I think he had no fear, first of all. And he coached in a way that as players, we didn’t fear anyone. We were going to play the way we wanted to play. We were going to get after teams. We were going to make them play fast and we were going to make them drag us down. And if you put us on the power play, it was going to be “good night” for you. He used to talk about positions and he used to say, “Hey, we’re just lining up for face offs.” Which, to be honest with you, is really how the game evolved. But back then it was more about stay in your lane and stay down, go up and down the wing and take slapshots. So he was definitely a pioneer in that regard.
On how he learned he was drafted by the Bruins:
I was at a friend’s house at a swimming pool in the middle of the summer and I got a call and it said, “Hey, you got drafted by the Boston Bruins.” And for me, I would have rather been drafted by the Boston Bruins in the fifth round at the 98th selection in the draft, than the third selection by anybody else but the Bruins. We also didn’t get a chance to watch (as much) hockey. You know, it was a different day and age. We watched the Maple Leafs when they came to town or the Canadiens when they came to town. But we didn’t get to see all the teams in the league like like you can do today.
On signing with the Bruins:
I was having lunch at a restaurant in Dedham and got a call and said, “Hey, the deal’s done — and we were watching the Bruins game on TV — meet the Bruins at the airport, bring your skates and your stick. Everything else they’ll supply for you.” And I met the team after the game. They were playing a home and home, I believe, with Chicago. So we flew to Chicago. I had Dave Poulin as a roommate, and I don’t know if I could have picked a better person. But I can tell you, I was so nervous that I didn’t know what time the game was. So when he got up and started moving around, I started to get up. When he went to the rink, I was right behind him. I was probably dressed 40 minutes too early, but I was afraid to ask anyone what time the game was.
On coaching at Harvard and his first recruit:
I remember talking to Dave Poulin, who was (coaching) at Notre Dame at the time, and he said, “Teddy, if I could tell you one thing, it was, don’t try to treat these guys like they’re NHL pros. You learned a lot over the years. You might think you knew it all the time, but you learned a lot over the years.” And, you know, you have to be able to teach and coach. And also, quite frankly, I didn’t understand how involved the recruiting process would become.
So my first recruit was Doug Rogers. And Dougie Rogers was a heck of a player for us at Harvard, really talented. He played at St Sebastian’s, from Watertown (Mass.). I came out of there knowing what the Harvard experience meant to me and, and the opportunity that Doug would have not only to be a great player, but to be able to go to Harvard and change his kind of path in life. And I felt so great coming out of there.