This Week in ECAC Hockey: Back from Olympics, Harvard’s Donato hasn’t missed a beat

 (Tim Brule)
Harvard sensation Ryan Donato leads the Crimson with 26 goals and 41 points entering the ECAC Hockey semifinals this weekend (photo: Melissa Wade).

It was quite the weekend for Harvard junior forward Ryan Donato, who had four goals and four assists in three games against Dartmouth in the ECAC Hockey quarterfinals.

His performance on Sunday — where Donato posted a hat trick — left everyone impressed.

“You have to be aware when he’s on the ice,” Dartmouth coach Bob Gaudet said. “The four-on-four goal was a big one for them. The last one was one of those fabulous plays and it’s tough when you are on the receiving end of it, but the kid just has a lot of weapons. That kid is a difference maker.”

His third goal was the No. 6 play on SportsCenter’s Top 10 Sunday evening. He was also named the league’s player of the week. Donato now has 26 goals and 15 assists in 28 games this season.

Since returning from the Olympics, Donato has nine points in five games. Clearly, he has adjusted back to the college game.

“I think the speed is a lot faster [at the Olympics], but it’s a different kind of fast,” Donato said. “I think there, first of all, it’s an Olympic sheet, so it will feel like a little more time and space. I think it’s a different game because you will know where guys will always be at that level. Good players know where good players are going to be. For here, it can be sometimes difficult because you can’t predict if the defenseman will jump up or stay back. It’s a lot more predictable and obviously, it’s a smaller sheet, so things happen a lot faster.”

Going into the semifinal contest against Clarkson on Friday, Donato previously had a goal and assist in the Jan. 19 contest in Potsdam where the teams skated to a 6-6 tie. He missed the Feb. 17 game at Harvard while at the Olympics. The Crimson won that one 5-2.

Clarkson coach Casey Jones likes Donato’s all-around ability.

“What I think makes him an unique player is he has great skill and his release is fantastic,” Jones said. “He works really hard and he’s such a good hockey player. His backside pressure is really great and he has great transition. He’s able to get his shot off, which is unique. He’s a player we obviously have to watch and plays with good pace. I think if he has time and space, he’s dangerous.”

League’s best vs. one of the league’s hottest

The first semifinal game on Friday pits the league’s top team in Cornell against No. 7-seeded Princeton — 11-2-1 in the past 14 games.

The Tigers are first in the conference with 123 goals scored, while Cornell is tied in fifth with Harvard with 100 goals. But while much of Cornell’s success has been the play of Matthew Galajda in goal, Princeton coach Ron Fogarty won’t underestimate the Big Red offensive ability.

“I believe Union plays somewhat similar to Cornell, just heavy on the puck, getting a lot of men in front of the net,” Fogarty said. “We have a little familiarity working tough against the boards and making sure we are winning our battles and winning races to the net. Going up against Cornell, everybody praises their defensive ability, which they are doing a good job, but they have scored 100 goals in the course of the season, too.”

Fogarty also mentioned Cornell does a good job blocking shots and is very good in transition. He also said his team needs to continue use its speed.

Cornell uses their depth to find the back of the net. Anthony Angello leads the team with 13 goals, while Trevor Yates and Alex Rauter each have 11 goals. For coach Mike Schaefer, it’s a double-edged sword.

“Our whole team is like secondary guys,” Schafer said. “Obviously, we have some guys over 10 goals, but I really kind of feel our secondary scoring is really our primary scoring in the sense that this past weekend, Beau Starrett got two goals on Friday night. Other guys scored throughout the course of the year. Someone always seems to step up and sometimes that can be scary, but as a coach, at the same time, going into games our strength is our depth.”

Busy week for Dartmouth

In addition to six games in 10 days, the Big Green also had final exams this week. For some players, the exams extended through the weekend.

“Fatigue plays a big role in that they wear you down,” Gaudet said. “We also played three games last week and I personally proctored 14 final exams the last couple of days. We are in finals and we don’t talk too much about it — it’s an unbelievably stressful time.”

Gaudet knows quarterfinal weekend every year falls during finals week and he tries to accommodate the players the best he can.

“It’s life; I can’t control it,” Gaudet said. “Our kids, I am proud of them because we have kids sit in exams three and half hours (on Saturday) during the afternoon then come and play a hockey game. It’s a hard thing, but I don’t control it. It’s a part of life.

After a 4-1 win on Friday night in Game 1 against Harvard, Dartmouth finished the weekend losing 7-1 on Saturday and 4-2 on Sunday.