It’s not easy replacing co-captain Jimmy Vesey—unless you’re Ryan Donato. Then it comes with a hat trick.
Skating without their injured star, the No. 9/9 Harvard men’s hockey team (14-8-3, 10-5-3 ECAC) snapped a three-game losing streak behind Donato’s three goals to beat Union, 4-1, Saturday night.
After sustaining a lower body injury in a 2-1 loss to RPI on Friday, Vesey watched Saturday night’s game from the stands, opening a spot for the freshman Donato on the Crimson’s first line against the Dutchmen (11-11-8, 4-9-5). Yet at times, Vesey’s surrogate might have fooled the crowd at the Bright-Landry Hockey Center into thinking that the Hobey Baker finalist was back on the ice.
On the power play with under 10 seconds left in the second period, Donato collected the puck near the end boards before finding a seam along the low slot. The freshman won a footrace across the crease and jammed the puck past the right pad of Union goaltender Alex Sakellaropoulos to give Harvard a 3-0 lead. The move, for all intents and purposes, was Vesey-esque.
“I see Jimmy do the same thing every day, so I knew what I wanted to do,” Donato laughed. “So thank you to him for helping me with that one.”
The second period goal was, by far, the flashiest of Donato’s efforts Saturday—his first period goal came on a deflection and his third period goal was an empty-netter—but style points do not count in the conference standings. With the final two weekends of the regular season looming, the freshman’s performance highlighted a disciplined effort from a banged-up team in search of a reset.
“I just thought it was a huge, strong game from us from start to finish,” Harvard coach Ted Donato ’91 said. “I thought we played very simple, very hard, very strong.”
With regard to Vesey’s status, the elder Donato revealed few details but is hopeful that the star left wing will return to the lineup soon. The Crimson now sits third in the ECAC standings and 12th in the PairWise Rankings with two weeks remaining in the regular season.
“I’m not at liberty to discuss health, but we’re hopeful that it’s nothing too serious, and I think the powers that be decided that we’d give it a few days before we thought it was game ready,” Ted Donato said.
All things considered, Harvard’s night began less than auspiciously. Midway through the first period, Union appeared to take the early lead after Dutchman junior Matt Wilkins redirected an outside shot past Crimson goaltender Merrick Madsen, but the goal was called back for a high stick.
The game’s first official goal came with 2:10 to play in the first period from the stick of Brayden Jaw, whose blast found the back of co-captain Kyle Criscuolo and the skate of Ryan Donato before trickling past Sakellaropoulos.
Harvard continued to pressure in the second period, drawing three power plays. With over five minutes to play in the middle frame, junior Alex Kerfoot broke Criscuolo free on a stretch pass to draw a slash on Union’s J.C. Brassard. As time expired on the ensuing man advantage, junior Sean Malone connected on a feed from Clay Anderson across the left faceoff circle to give Harvard a two-goal lead. Minutes later, sophomore forward Seb Lloyd forced a hook on Wilkins at 19:45 in the period to set up Donato’s second strike off the next faceoff.
Out of the intermission, Wilkins brought the visitors back within two goals, deflecting an outside shot from Nick DeSimone. Minutes later, Sebastien Gingras clipped Harvard’s right post with a backhander from the high slot, but that would be the last shot to beat sophomore goaltender Merrick Madsen, who finished the night with 24 saves.
With Sakellaropoulos pulled after a 22 save effort, Ryan Donato completed his hat trick with a flying breakaway that finished with the freshman crashing into the empty net. After the game, his teammates awarded him with the player of the game hat, an honor that comes with a speech.
“I just said, ‘Let’s get healthy boys,’” Donato said. “We’ve got a big four points next week, and hopefully we’ll clinch the Ivy League.”
—Crimson staff writer Michael D. Ledecky can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org
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