At the Olympics, college hockey players put the NCAA regular season on hold to chase gold
GANGNEUNG, South Korea — Ryan Donato would love to clone himself so he could play at the Olympics and Harvard at the same time.
He has to be content will trying to win a medal for the United States. Donato is one of a handful of players and coaches in the Olympic men's hockey tournament who are playing in South Korea while their teams back home continue with their schedule.
European leagues and the KHL took an Olympic break. Like the NHL, the American Hockey League and the NCAA are still going. Donato and others are keeping in touch with members of their team primarily by text, but are immersing themselves in this tournament.
"You put so much time and effort into your team," said Donato, who will miss at least four Harvard games depending on how far the U.S. advances. "Those are the guys who are all my brothers. ... (But) this team here deserves everything I've got, and I'm going to put everything I've got into it."
Beyond Donato, the U.S. has head coach Tony Granato (University of Wisconsin) and assistants Keith Allain (Yale) and Scott Young (Pittsburgh Penguins) and the majority of players putting their seasons on hold: Troy Terry (Denver University), Jordan Greenway (Boston University), Will Borgen (St. Cloud State), Chris Bourque (AHL Hershey), John McCarthy (AHL San Jose) and Bobby Butler (AHL Milwaukee). Canada has two: Cody Goloubef (AHL Stockton) and Christian Thomas (AHL Wilkes-Barre Scranton).
It's taking some getting used to.
"It is strange," Allain said. "Luckily for me, I've got two assistant coaches that I trust completely. We're on the same page all the time whether I'm there or not there and we talk on a daily basis. Our team swept (last weekend) so things are good back in New Haven."
When Milwaukee swept a weekend series without him, Butler joked, "I think they dropped the dead weight." He said he had heard from a few veteran players via text that some teammates were stepping up in his absence.
Admirals coaches and executives told Butler they hoped he'd make the Olympic team, and now his teammates are motivated by trying to win for him.
"We have a great group back home and I wouldn't be here without them," said Butler, who could miss as many as nine games. "When I left, all the guys gave me big hugs. ... They're a great group of guys and I wouldn't be here without them. I'll miss them for the duration."
Bourque texts with teammates back home, but the 32-year-old veteran is compartmentalizing and not worrying about the Bears for these two weeks.
We were lucky to grab a look @ boys from Massachusetts! #Olympics #MassProud #pyeongchang2018 #USA @usahockey Executive Director @patkelleherusah (Belmont), Noah Welch (Brighton), Bobby Butler (Marlborough), @cbourque17 (Boston), John McCarthy (Boston) & @DonatoRyan (Scituate) pic.twitter.com/RYC2hOzCyM— Massachusetts Hockey (@Mass_Hockey) February 12, 2018
"I've got a huge opportunity to play at the Olympics and I've got to give 100 percent of my attention to this team because everyone's all in," said Bourque, who could miss seven to nine AHL games. "I'm invested 100 percent with this team. Obviously I hope my team does well back home, but that's not my priority right now."
It was Granato's priority, too, though he knew going in he would only miss two to four Wisconsin games. While splitting his attention between his college team and preparations for the Olympics, he made sure associate coach Mark Osiecki and the rest of the Badgers' staff and team were set up to be OK without him.
"Everything that we did leading up to that was preparations knowing that I'd be gone for a few weeks," Granato said. "If there's a hard decision or something happened or there's an injury back there and they need to talk to me (they can call). I think everything's under control there and taken care of."