'88's Eight: Hockey Freshmen

Adapting to the Bright Life

Charles Darwin would have been proud of Don Sweeney.

If there's one thing the freshman defenseman excels at, it's adaptation.

A native of St. Stephen, New Brunswick, a small Canadian town with a population of about 5000 Sweeney has been moving from one environment to another throughout his life.

Now it seems like he's found a niche of his own it Bright Center.

The road to Harvard, however, has been an indirect one.

Sweeney started skating on an outdoor rink at the age of three and moved to an indoor rink three years later. Then, when he turned nine, his father took a year's sabbatical and the family relocated to Ontario.

"That's where you'll find every kid playing hockey, and every kid is good," Sweeney says. "In the Maritime, we're two steps behind everyone in Ontario, and you could notice the difference it made in my play in just one year."

After playing at the Squirt level in Ontario, the Sweeney family returned to New Brunswick. Then, the year before high school, at age 14, he made an important decision to play Junior B instead of Bantam.

"Some of those guys were 21 years old, and it was a big maturation time for me," Sweeney says. "That's maybe where I made my biggest adjustment--I had to develop a lot more quickness or I was going to get killed."

The quickness paid off, of all places, in the United State. In an unusual step for Canadian hockey player. Sweeney decided to go across the border for high school. He selected St. Paul's, in Concord, N.H.

"At St. Paul's, we played a skating game, a really disciplined game. The quickness really helped me a lot," Sweeney explains.

It wasn't the hockey, however, but the academics that provided the greatest challenge at first.

"I had a real tough time there the first year," Sweeney says. "But I think every child should have a chance to grow up with that kind of opportunity. A lot of kids are smart, and you get into a routine, a study habit--you have to allocate your time wisely, and that's what boarding school taught me most."

While choosing St. Paul's had been difficult the decision to go to college in the United States was never a big dilemma Sweeney's older brother had attended Brown, where he played two years of hockey.

"My brother really broke the ice," Sweeney says. "I knew I wanted to go to college in the States."

So Sweeney headed for Cambridge, prepared by his years at boarding school for the academic load, and all set to join the other seven freshmen on Coach Cleary's squad.

What waited for him was yet another situation calling for quick adaptation.

Despite starting the year on defense, where he had played all his life, Sweeney soon found himself at forward, as Cleary experimented with different line-ups.

"When I was moved up it hit me hard at first--I like it much better on defense, 'Sweeney said. "But I knew the coach did it a reason. He wants to make every player into a better player."

"We tried Don at forward and boy can he shoot," Cleary noted. "It's nice to have versatile players, we consider that a great asset, it makes him a better player."

Now back on the blue line for good, Sweeney skates with Captain Brad Kwong. He has two goals and five assists on the season--including the gamewinning tally in Harvard's first meeting with Princeton and an assist in the Beanpot consolation win over Boston College.

Sweeney's aggressive play--he is one of the squad's leaders with 11 penalties on the season--reflects the drive of an athlete striving for a permanent niche in Harvard hockey. The competitive spirit, however, does not spill over to his relations with the other team members, particularly his fellow Yardlings.

"All of the freshmen really fit well together," Sweeney stresses. "There are seven of us, but it's not a competition. If you start having a competition, you're going to be fighting for four years."

Instead of feuding, the freshmen and upperclassmen have blended together to produce a stable, stimulating environment.

And Don Sweeney has adapted to that environment in a way that's got to make any Harvard hockey fan awfully glad that the latest of his many moves has brought him to Cambridge