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Tuesday, February 09, 2010

Isles prospect Matt Donovan

The Isles are one of only a handful of teams to have played an NHL game in Donovan's home state.  On December 13, 1992, the Isles defeated Edmonton 4-1 in an Islander  "home game" played in Oklahoma City.

<<Steve Thomas and Tom Fitzgerald each scored two goals tonight and the Islanders beat Edmonton, 4-1, in the first regular-season National Hockey League game ever played in Oklahoma.  The game .. drew 11,110.>> nytimes

That win, fwiw, ended an Islander 11 game winless streak against Edmonton dating back to February 14, 1989  -- the day Brandon (don't call me SOO-ter) Sutter was born.

Read on for the Donovan story from today's Denver Post.

Sooner Donovan's a boon to DU hockey
By Terry Frei
The Denver Post
Posted: 02/09/2010 01:00:00 AM MST
Updated: 02/09/2010 07:46:34 AM MST

Matt Donovan hears it every day, usually at a rink.

You're from WHERE?

Yes, the University of Denver freshman defenseman is from Oklahoma, where the wind comes sweeping down the plain; where football is king; and where — at least according to perception — hockey is to his native state what bobsledding is to Jamaica.

"I get it from everyone," Donovan said recently at Magness Arena. "Then it's something like, 'We didn't know Oklahoma had hockey.' Or, 'We didn't know Oklahoma had ice.' "

That makes his role in what happened Jan. 6 even more unlikely. After the U.S. knocked off Canada 6-5 in overtime in the title game of the World Junior (Under-20) Championships in Saskatoon, Saskatchewan,

Donovan stood with his gold medal around his neck and heard the U.S. anthem.

Donovan, 19, and a 2008 draft choice of the NHL's New York Islanders, had three goals and two assists in seven tournament games. The American team included seven players from Western Collegiate Hockey Association teams who took breaks from their college seasons to play for their country — and shock the Canadians in the championship game.

"With 15,000 people screaming against us, it was pretty nuts," said Donovan, who is from Edmond, Okla. "I don't think you can describe the feeling of winning that."

Then Donovan returned to the college game.

"I was kind of excited to get back into the groove of things, to be back with my team," he said.

Going into DU's Friday and Saturday Western Collegiate Hockey Association home games against Minnesota, Donovan has four goals and 12 assists in 23 games while playing a prominent role on the blue line.

How Donovan ended up on the Hilltop is testimony to the geographic expansion of a sport on the participatory level in the U.S. His path is also an illustration of how significantly NCAA hockey recruiting has changed in the past two decades, with coaches looking at prospects

 Matt Donovan, who hails from Edmond, Okla., was a fourth-round draft selection of the New York Islanders in the 2008 NHL draft. He has four goals and 12 assists for the Pioneers this season. ( Hyoung Chang, The Denver Post )from "nontraditional" areas, and at younger players.

Donovan stands a chance of becoming the first NHL player born and raised in Oklahoma. His father, Larry Donovan, is a Boston native who came to Oklahoma for college — and stayed. He worked for the state of Oklahoma insurance department before getting into rink management full time.

"Matthew was about 3 when he started skating by himself," Larry Donovan said from Oklahoma City. "He wanted to be there all the time."

Ice time was at a premium in Oklahoma City, where minor-league hockey is deep- rooted, but participation at the youth level isn't.
"There were two rinks I grew up playing at," Matt said. "One is Arctic Edge, and they just put in a second ice sheet now. My dad's at Blazers Ice Center."

Matt also played baseball, football and golf.

"He was a really good athlete, but those other things were really something for him to do in the offseason," Larry Donovan said.

Larry coached the University of Oklahoma club team, but it wasn't long before he knew his son could play at a higher level.

The competition as he was climbing the youth hockey ladder, Matt said, "was not great, but good enough." He listed a handful of his contemporaries who have gone on to Tier I junior hockey, but it also was apparent that he would have to leave home to find a greater challenge.

Matt moved to Dallas — one of the nation's youth hockey hotbeds — to attend Coppell High School and play Midget AAA for the Dallas Stars.

"I had just turned 16, I had gotten my license, and my mom (Kathryn) definitely didn't want me to leave," Matt said. "But it was a no-brainer for me. I wanted to play college hockey and that was the way to go."

His father wasn't wild about the idea, either.

"I'm not going to lie to you," Larry Donovan said. "I didn't want him to leave, because once they leave, they leave, you know? It's hard to get them back."

Matt lived with "billet" parents, next door to the high school.

"I walked to the high school, walked back, went to practice, went home, ate dinner, did homework and went to sleep," Donovan said.

Then the Cedar Rapids RoughRiders of the United States Hockey League drafted him. The USHL is as close to major junior as players can get without losing their eligibility to play NCAA hockey. DU was already recruiting Donovan on a "futures" basis, with assistant coach Steve Miller as the point man. Donovan committed to the Pioneers before he ever played a game in the USHL.

DU coach George Gwozdecky said he raised his eyebrows a bit when he heard that the prospect was from Oklahoma.

"But we knew that with his dad's involvement in hockey, there were some bloodlines there," Gwozdecky said. "He was impacted by his dad's love for the game."

DU watched him in his final two years of high school and in the USHL — he graduated from Kennedy High in Cedar Rapids, Iowa — and his development validated the Pioneers' decision to commit a scholarship to him so early. And the Islanders took him in the fourth round of the NHL draft after his first season at Cedar Rapids.

As a freshman this season, he has stepped into a regular shift with the Pioneers.

"There's lots of growing up left to do," he said. "There are lots of things I have to work on to get to the next level. I know what I can do offensively, but defensively, I have to get stronger."

Said Gwozdecky: "He's getting better and better. He's getting more confident, like all our freshmen. It's a different role he has to play — a challenging role on defense, especially in our league where you're playing against guys who are so much bigger and stronger than you've seen. He's coming along real well."

Because of lowered threshold ages for free agency, NHL teams have been less patient about waiting for draft choices attending colleges in recent years, and the Islanders have been among the least patient. It seems unlikely that they would make a run at Donovan until after his junior season, but nothing can be ruled out.

"Right now, I'm expecting to be here four years, until someone tells me otherwise," Donovan said.

Read more: http://www.denverpost.com/sports/ci_14361972#ixzz0f4IipMVU
 Forever1940 is the nom de plume of Eric Hornick, statistician on Islander home telecasts since 1982. Visit my blog: forever1940.blogspot.com and follow me on Twitter @ehornick

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