Matt Donovan has produced at every level of hockey he has played. From the USHL, to the University of Denver, to two star seasons in Bridgeport with the Sound Tigers, the Oklahoma native has compiled impressive offensive numbers at each of his stops. In just two seasons with the Sound Tigers Matt is second on the franchises’ all-time list for points by a defenseman. The 2012-2013 season also saw Donovan make the AHL All-Star game and finished tied for the lead league for most points by a d-man.
I asked Matt to describe his stay in Bridgeport and elaborate on his growth as a player. “I’ve always been an offensive player like you said, but coming into pro hockey my coaches really had to burn it into my head that I needed to concentrate on defense first and my offense would come naturally after that. So the past two years I’ve really just focused on playing defense first, being more physical, and staying defensive minded and letting the offense take care of itself.”
Now there is only one ladder left for Matt to climb; a roster spot with the Sound Tigers parent club, The New York Islanders. When I asked Donovan what it will take to make this jump his answer revolved around hard work. “Strive to be mentally ready and play with intensity every game and every shift. I believe I’m doing the proper off-season training to get stronger and will bring that added strength to training camp in September.”
The path across Long Island Sound has become less rocky when a roster spot on the Islanders’ blue line opened up. Before the start of free agency the isles traded their captain Mark Streit to the Flyers when it became clear that he would not resign in Long Island. This roster spot will be a battle come this fall between Donovan and former Islander first round picks Calvin de Haan and Griffin Reinhart. Donovan’s growth over the past two seasons and impressive numbers in the AHL gives him a leg up in this competition. When asked who has helped him get to this point in his hockey career, Matt found mentors at every level along the way. “That would have to be all my coaches I’ve had over the years. Mark Berge and my dad, Larry in Oklahoma City, Craig Ludwig and Dwight Mullins in Dallas, Mark Carlson in Cedar Rapids, George Gwozdecky at Denver University and of course, my Bridgeport coaches. I have learned so much from each one of them.”
Islanders training camp will boast many high profile prospects; msot who have spent time playing for the Sound Tigers. I asked Donovan which of his Bridgeport teammates Islanders fans should be looking forward to the most. “There are a lot of good, young players on the Sound Tigers that have the skill and ability to make the jump to the NHL. Players like Brock Nelson and Ryan Strome have great potential to become long term NHL players.”
While Donovan and other Sound Tigers are looking to become full time Islanders, Matt has already made hockey history. During the 2011-2012 season Donovan made his NHL debut with the Islanders becoming the first Oklahoma born and trained player to play in a NHL game. This feat was recognized by Oklahoma City which declared July 31st 2012 Matt Donovan day. Calling Oklahoma home is something Matt holds very dear to his heart as he looks to be a hockey trailblazer in his home state. “It was a great honor to be acknowledged as the first born and trained Oklahoman to play in the NHL. I hope I’m a role model for all Oklahoma hockey players and I stress to them that their dreams can come true if they put in the time and effort. I had the benefit of my dad managing an ice rink growing up, but I truly believe if you have the passion to play and excel, that there are avenues available to make your dreams become reality.”
Stay tuned this fall as Islanders training camp will resemble a reality television show. Two to three roster spots will be open and for each spot three to four kids will be fighting the biggest dogfight of their hockey careers with the reward a chance to fulfill a dream of making a NHL team. Matt Donovan is now on the verge of making those dreams a full time reality.
For more on Matt and his path to the NHL follow him on twitter at @SquatchDonovan. And for more inside all levels of hockey give me a follow on twitter @DanDanNoodles78. Photos courtesy of Cathy Petriw. For more follow her on twitter @CrossCheckCathy.