It's not very often that a professional athlete becomes teammates with someone who previously played alongside one of their parents. But after being acquired by the Sharks in a trade with the Minnesota Wild on Monday, there's a very good chance that's the situation Ryan Donato will soon find himself in.
Donato's father, Ted, played for eight different teams during his 13-year NHL career that spanned the 1991-92 and 2003-04 seasons. During that time, he was Joe Thornton's teammate not once, but twice.
When an 18-year-old Thornton entered the league as the No. 1 overall pick in the 1997 NHL Entry Draft, the elder Donato was in his sixth season with the Boston Bruins. He was traded the following season and bounced around the league throughout the remainder of his career, but returned to the Bruins for his final season, which just happened to coincide with Thornton's last full season in Boston.
As Donato's son, Ryan was exposed to NHL locker rooms at a very early age. Just see for yourself:
Yes, that's a teenaged Thornton with flowing locks sitting next to Donato. The other player actually is former Bruin Sergei Samsonov, not the elder Donato.
Thornton, of course, would go on to become one of the top players in the league. Following the lockout in '04-05, he was acquired by the Sharks midway through the 2005-06 season. 15 years later, Thornton is widely expected to return for another season in teal, and if he does, the younger Donato will be playing with someone he has looked up to since Thornton's days of wearing the No. 6 sweater.
"I do have some memories of Joe," Ryan told reporters Monday via videoconference. "I think that picture from when I was a little kid, obviously that's something that I've held pretty close to me, being a big fan of Joe growing up and kind of idolizing him. And, obviously, my dad had such respect for him. I always was watching him whenever I got the chance and followed him pretty strictly throughout his entire career."
Both father and son are delighted about the trade to San Jose, and not solely due to Thornton's expected presence.
"I think my dad was excited," Donato continued. "I think he knows the league is all about opportunity, and he knows I'm a hockey player at heart. I'm a guy that wants to play. I'm a hockey rink rat. For me, it's all about getting the opportunity to do that and do the things that I love to do ever since I've been a kid. So, I think he's excited about the new opportunity, and I'm sure he's excited that there's a couple really nice golf courses in San Jose as well."