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Four-year defenseman Gabriella Donato drives Loyola’s return to the United Center

By Ross Forman, 10/18/23, 9:00PM CDT


Gabriella Donato was playing in her first-ever hockey game years ago for a Vernon Hills house-league team called the Kings against the Bruins. She scored her first-ever goal that day after skating the puck up and just shooting it at the net.

Her hockey career, now in its fourth year on the Loyola Academy girls’ hockey team, has been as rewarding and memorable.

Donato, 18, who lives in Lake Forest, is a left-handed shooting defenseman who also skates for Team Illinois. Her career has included time playing for Vernon Hills Ice Dogs, Highland Park Falcons, Wilmette Braves and Northshore Warhawks. She was a Metro Girls Academic Award-winner.

“I am a very offensive and physical defenseman. When I have the opportunity, I always skate the puck up,” said Donato, whose Ramblers are 1-2 in Metro Girls play so far this season.

“We have a great group of girls this season who always work hard. Our freshmen are amazing and are already a great addition to the team. We also have a great coaching staff that always works hard to ensure we can reach our full potential as a team. With a lot hard work and dedication, we can go far and hopefully make it back to the United Center.”

The Ramblers were silenced last March at the United Center in the state championship game, losing 6-0 to Barrington.

“Our goals this season are to win a lot of games, work as a team, make it back to the United Center and have a lot of fun.  Personally, I want to be a good leader, make the most of my senior year, score a lot of goals and have fun.”

Donato said the Ramblers’ run for state last season was “amazing.”

“I made so many memories and making it to the (finals) was an unbelievable experience,” she said.

Slapshots With … Loyola defenseman Gabriella Donato

Favorite NHL Team: Chicago Blackhawks
Favorite NHL Player: Cale Makar
Favorite Sports-themed Movie: The Mighty Ducks
Favorite TV Show: Friends
Favorite Pre-game Meal: Cheeseburger
Favorite app: TikTok
Celebrity You’d Like To Meet: Ryan Reynolds
Best Hockey Tip: “You get what you put in.” – Gabriella’s dad
Most Accurate Shot on Loyola: Julia Carrigan
Loyola Player Who Could Be A Hockey Coach: Kylie Titzer
Best High School Uniform (other than Loyola):  New Trier
Career Highlight: “Beating New Trier the first time I ever played them my freshman year.”
Hockey Influences: “My older cousins because I grew up watching them playing hockey. Watching them made me decide that I wanted to play hockey, too. My mom has also been a huge influence because she comes to every single game and always encourages me, even after all the bad games and when I wanted to quit.”
Favorite Game: “Beating Fenwick in the semi-finals to make it to the state championship, or the actual state championship game, because playing at the United Center was unreal and a once-in-a-lifetime experience that I may never experience again.”
Favorite Goal: “Last year against Latin. It was our first game of the season and Latin was coming off of their state championship win. I managed to take a slapshot from the blue line and it was the first goal we scored against them.”
College: Still undecided, but she plans to study pre-med or pre-vet.
Off The Ice: “I like to hang out with my friends and family, and I love to catch up on sleep that I miss during the season. I like to take my dog, Piper, for walks around my neighborhood and to the park.”
Off The Ice, Round 2: “I work out at the gym and also shoot and stickhandle outside.”
Overcoming Obstacles: “Sophomore year, I tore my PCL in my knee. I was out for at least two months and I had to go to physical therapy. It was hard getting my knee to the way it was before, but with physical therapy and constantly skating, I was able to get my knee back to full strength.”
Improving Her Game: “I had Team Illinois summer skates and workouts a couple days a week that helped me to stay in shape. I also shot and stick-handled outside when the weather was nice.