He’s had just one press conference. He hasn’t yet convened a practice or spent a minute behind the bench. And he certainly hasn’t won a game, much less a title.
Doesn’t matter. Ted Donato ’91 has already brought the buzz of yesteryear back to Harvard hockey.
As Donato stepped to the podium at the press conference formally announcing his hire as men’s hockey coach, a level of electricity, of giddy anticipation, unparalleled in recent memory swept over an audience already awash in the flickering lights of flashbulbs and waiting television cameras.
And it’s not as if there hasn’t been plenty to cheer about for the Crimson in recent years. Harvard fans haven’t had to endure five straight sub-.500 campaigns, as during the period stretching across Ronn Tomassoni’s final four seasons and Mark Mazzoleni’s first. They haven’t had to endure several-year periods without ECAC crowns and trips to the NCAA tournament. And they sure haven’t had to endure stretches as long as their Red Sox counterparts in between titles.
Mazzoleni was—despite the claims of his detractors—a solid coach who resurrected a floundering program, restored it to national prominence and even captured two ECAC championships in the process.
But Mazzoleni never approached anything resembling the prototypical “Harvard Guy,” and his Midwestern attitude and coaching philosophy was a constant irritant to a circle of players, parents and alums, many of whom became his—if not vocal—certainly well-heard critics.
And though he was a good coach, laying the groundwork for the Crimson’s restoration, his teams never quite made the leap back into the upper echelon of collegiate hockey powers. In Harvard’s three NCAA tournament appearances under Mazzoleni, the Crimson was eliminated in the first round on each occasion, right on the cusp of fulfilling its promise.
By the end, just getting his team there—especially after a mediocre regular season during which Harvard plummeted out of the national rankings after polls placed them as high as No. 6—didn’t make Mazzoleni a great coach any more. Dominating No. 1 Maine for 40 minutes might have, but for a four-goal third-period collapse and another first-round exit.
Maybe that would have been good enough for another program, particularly one with lower expectations and a less impressive history.
But not for Harvard. Not with that much talent. Not with a past dotted with Hobey Baker winners and trips to the Frozen Four.
Failing to get over the hump simply wasn’t good enough any more for the audience on hand to welcome Donato. And maybe that same crowd would have been happy to have anyone prepared to take the Crimson to that next step.
Maybe former Harvard and Boston College assistant Ron Rolston would have drawn flowing praise from Director of Athletics Robert Scalise. Maybe Union coach Nate Leaman or Vermont head man Kevin Sneddon ’92 would have earned a smile and approving nod from former coach and athletics director Bill Cleary ’56.
But as Donato warmly reflected on his own time at Harvard and his expectations for the future, the emotion in the room transcended mere satisfaction or joy, making the collective expectation quite clear.
Donato is the man Harvard has chosen to lead the program back to the promised land, to the glory days of the Cleary era with which he is so intimately familiar.
“He’s won with Harvard,” captain Noah Welch said. “So when he walks into the locker room he’s going to expect to beat the BCs and the BUs, and I expect it to rub off on our team.”
For the sake of all his believers, it had better. This time around, they won’t have the shortcomings they saw in Mazzoleni to fall back on.
—Staff writer Timothy J. McGinn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.