PHILADELPHIA -- Back in the day, Ryan Donato used to give his name as 'Ryan Hockey-nato'.
He'd sign that name to papers. When he was skating with some of his dad's NHL pals he might be encouraged to give that name: 'Ryan Hockey-nato'. For a young lad who loved the game and had come to understand that the game was his father's life, and indeed the lifeblood of the family, maybe it was just easier to say. Or maybe there was a little foreshadowing.
Even now Ryan, who turned 18 in April, gets a good chuckle out of his old self-assigned name, although this week it has a little different meaning, a little different ring to it. He and his family are making their way from the Boston area to Philadelphia for the NHL's annual draft, where the skilled center is expected to go somewhere late in the first round or early in the second round.
This will be the first draft for Ryan's father, Ted, who didn't attend in 1987 when the Boston Bruins selected him in the fifth round (98th overall). In fact, Ted was at a buddy's house having a swim when he got a call saying he'd been selected by his hometown team.
Ted Donato admitted he and his friends figured it was better to be drafted in the fifth round by the Bruins than in the second round by anyone else at that point in the league's evolution. At that time American-born players were still more the exception than the rule in the NHL. And a fifth-round pick from Boston? Well, let's just say there was a reason the focus was more on swimming than celebrating a future in the NHL that day.
"It wasn't as realistic a dream as it might be now," he told ESPN.com this week.
But deep inside Ted figured something that maybe many didn't: He had a shot. He'd played internationally against top Canadian talent, and played well. He knew that hard work would be his currency and if he worked hard enough he might just generate enough currency to give himself a shot in the NHL.
He got more than a shot. Ted Donato played 796 regular-season games in the NHL with eight different teams, and another 58 postseason contests. He counts players like Brett Hull, Teemu Selanne and Paul Kariya among his former teammates and among the players who made a lasting impression on Ryan, the oldest of four Donato children (three boys, Ryan, Jack and Nolan, and daughter Maddie).
"I really couldn't have had a better childhood," Ryan Donato said.
Although still a boy at the time, Ryan would see through his father's eyes the privilege of being an NHL player, but also the business side when the family was impacted by trades and signing with different teams at various points during his father's career. Between 1998-99 and 2003-04, Ted's last season in the NHL, he played for 14 different teams in the NHL and American Hockey League.
Ted and his brother Danny grew up playing hockey together. Ted ended up at Harvard and after three years starring for the Crimson joined the U.S. Olympic team in 1992. Following the Olympics he would join the Bruins. Danny played at Boston University -- at one point against his brother's Olympic squad as a tuneup before the Albertville Games.