June 24, 2004
Postcard: To Play or To Coach?
Dave Poulin has unique insight to the decision his former teammate, Ted Donato, may face

By Nate Ewell

Boston Bruin Ted Donato

Dave Poulin and Ted Donato didn’t sit around the Boston Garden locker room in the early 1990s and discuss their plans to coach their alma maters once their playing days were over.

Donato was an NHL newcomer at the time, at the very beginning of his 13-year career. And the veteran Poulin, when considering his future, saw himself on Wall Street, not behind a bench.

That all changed when Notre Dame came calling in 1995, Poulin’s final season as an NHL player. So he can understand the appeal that the Harvard head coaching position would have to his former Boston Bruins teammate – Donato’s agent told Inside College Hockey last week that his client had an interest in the job. Having faced a similar situation, Poulin would have some words of wisdom should Donato be hired.

“I would probably talk more about the lifestyle,” Poulin said. “The biggest misnomer is how constant it is. Obviously at the NHL level you have your summers off. Here at Notre Dame, you run ‘Hockey, Inc.’ You’re responsible for every aspect of the program, and it never ends. Yes, your season ends, but then you’ve got a critical academic period. Then it’s recruiting. Then the festivals start up. Now all of a sudden the season is starting again. I think the constant nature of it is unique.”

Poulin, sitting in his office in the middle of June, isn’t kidding. With a constant eye on recruiting, he’s also preparing for his summer hockey school. And while he’d love to be in Raleigh, N.C., this weekend, where Irish defenseman Wes O’Neill should get taken in the first two rounds of the NHL Entry Draft, a family obligation will keep him away.

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Inside College Hockey sources point to Boston College's Ron Roslton as the leading candidate for the Harvard job. Another potential candidate, Vermont head coach Kevin Sneddon, has since taken his name out of the running at his alma mater, electing to stay in Burlington.

Those are all factors Donato may have to consider as Harvard’s hiring process continues. Does he want to forfeit regular tee times for office hours and recruiting trips? And will his reputation suffer if he turns out to be a bad fit as a coach?

Donato, in fact, may face more personal risk in taking the job than Harvard would in offering it to an untested, inexperienced coach. After all, as a high-profile alumnus, Donato would instantly inject energy into the Crimson program and presumably have the support of fellow alumni.

He’s got a background that seems to fit the mold of coaching material. He’s a cerebral player, in many ways a poor-man’s Poulin. Donato is an effective defensive forward now (a role Poulin excelled at, winning the Selke Trophy) after scoring 20 goals three times for the Bruins (Poulin scored 30 twice and at least 20 four times). Poulin doubts the notion that a certain type of player makes a good coach, but does say that Donato “certainly has the qualities that you would look for in a coach.”

Donato has to consider whether he wants to apply those qualities to a year-round job that would offer a salary that’s a fraction of the $450,000 he made last year. It’s no wonder that, if the NHL lockout weren’t a possibility, his agent said his first priority would be to return to the Bruins.

All that said, Poulin offers a reminder of the rewards that can come with the position. Foremost among those are the relationships he's forged with his players, even moreso than the on-ice returns, such as leading the Irish to their first NCAA Tournament bid.

“The rewards are enormous,” he said. “Having [1998 graduate] Steve Noble call me on his way to class at the business school at Stanford is amazing. I’ve had doctors, a dentist, a couple of lawyers. And this year I had two kids in the NHL and four seniors all sign NHL contracts.”

That, said Poulin, is why he’s happy now not to be working on Wall Street. Or even skating in the NHL.

“Now I couldn’t imagine not coaching,” he said. “And I haven’t once missed playing. Not once.”

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