Growing up in Oklahoma City, Matt Donovan spent plenty of time around the ice rink. His father, Larry, ran Iceland Sports Center in Oklahoma City before moving to other rinks in the area. As a freshman at Edmond North, Donovan's hockey potential outgrew Oklahoma City and he moved, first to Dallas for midget hockey and then to Iowa for junior hockey.
After his first season in Cedar Rapids, Donovan was drafted by the New York Islanders. Following another year in Iowa and two at the University of Denver, Donovan signed with the Isles. About a year later, Donovan became the first Oklahoma born and raised player to make the National Hockey League, playing for the Islanders in each of their final three games to end the 2011-12 season.
Last season, Donovan played the entire season in the American Hockey League but is still one of the Islanders' top prospects. Earlier this month, Donovan was honored with an award at the March of Dimes Mercy Sports Headliner Banquet, where he talked about his upbringing in Oklahoma, what it meant to make the NHL and his outlook moving forward.
Words can't describe what it was like to get the call to play in the NHL, a kid from Oklahoma, the first born and raised Oklahoman to make it to the NHL. You don't even dream of something like that coming from Oklahoma. Every kid dreams of growing up and playing in the NHL when you grow up playing hockey but it's hard to think of that when you grow up here. It was definitely a dream come true. Hopefully there's more to come and hopefully it's next year.
It means a lot to be the first one. Hopefully it's opening doors for kids coming up and younger kids that are playing in Oklahoma right now. It gives them kind of a hope that they can make it too. That kid's watching NHL games right now and knowing that I'm there too, it kinds of puts it in their minds that they could be there too.
I don't really know why I ended up playing defense. When I was young I played forward and defense and eventually my dad, I don't know if he just put me back there or if I liked it more, I'm not really sure. I was young when I made the decision to just stay back there and I think it worked out OK.
I'm an offensive defenseman so I like scoring goals, getting assists and getting points. Guys in the AHL and in the NHL are so good offensively. The forwards, they can score with no problem. It's tough to focus on defense first but I had to let that offensive mentality go a little bit. That's the hardest part, staying solid defensively and thinking about offense after that.
It probably wasn't until I was playing in Denver that I started really thinking about playing in the NHL. I got drafted when I was 18 and playing juniors in Cedar Rapids. It was awesome to be drafted in the NHL but still I was a long ways away at that point, but when college started, guys that I was playing with started signing and going to the NHL. That's when it clicked that that's what I wanted to do. I wanted to make the NHL.
I was fortunate to have a lot of good coaches. When I moved to Dallas for the first year when I was 16, I had Craig Ludwig who played in the NHL for so many years. When I moved to juniors, I had Mark Carlson who was an awesome coach too. He knew a lot about hockey and the next level so he was great for me too. Then I want to Denver with George Gwozdecky and our assistant coaches there were unbelievable. I grew up with my dad as my coach and Mark Berge who was drafted in the NHL. All of my coaches were huge influences on my game and on me as a person. There's not one that I can single out. They're all unbelievable.