Matt Donovan two years ago became the first player born, raised and trained in Oklahoma to play in the National Hockey League.
Donovan played in three games with the New York Islanders during the 2010-11 season. This time, Donovan could stick all season with the Islanders as he adds another first to his resume, the first Oklahoma product to make an NHL opening day roster.
“Coming from Oklahoma, no one expects it,” Donovan said in a telephone interview with The Oklahoman. “Being from Oklahoma, I never got recognition like a first-round pick would. I never really had the spotlight on me so I've had to work that much harder. To make it really means a lot to me.”
Matt's father, Larry, grew up in the Boston area but migrated to Oklahoma to attend college. Larry is a former Oklahoma City Blazer who for years has run ice rinks in the OKC area. He's also been involved with the OU's hockey club since its inception 11 years ago.
What does it mean for Larry to see his son become the first Oklahoman to make an NHL opening day roster?
“It's an incredible feeling,” Larry said. “It probably won't sink in until we watch that first game. For any athlete, fulfilling your dream, playing at the highest level, is pretty awesome.”
The Islanders open the season Friday night at New Jersey. Matt Donovan, 23, not only made the roster but is projected to play a key role. Donovan will quarterback the Islanders' second power-play unit.
“Matt Donovan is offensive; it's as simple as that,” Islanders coach Jack Capuano said on the team's website. “We lost Mark Streit. He obviously was a guy who could run the power play. Matt plays the way I want the D to play in my system as far as being the fourth man in the attack.”
Spending last season with the Bridgeport Sound Tigers, the Islanders' Triple-A team, Donovan's 48 points tied Barons star Justin Schultz for the AHL defenseman scoring title. The previous season, Donovan was fourth among AHL defensemen with 45 points.
Motivated that he failed to get a call-up last season, Donovan has worked diligently the past year on improving his all-around game.
“I've always been able to put up numbers, but last year I proved I also can play well defensively,” Donovan said. “That's what the coaches were putting in my brain.”
Donovan has enjoyed success at every level. He grew up in Oklahoma City's youth hockey program. But at age 15, a freshman at Edmond North, Donovan needed stiffer competition. He played one season of midget hockey in Dallas, two years of junior hockey in Cedar Rapids.
A fourth-round draft pick while he was in Iowa, Donovan played on USA's gold medal team at the 2010 world junior championships. It's the same tournament Edmonton Oilers star Ryan Nugent-Hopkins took a hiatus from the Barons last year to play for Team Canada.