I’ve done a handful of interviews this season. Some really solid, some scarily boring. But every now and again you strike sporting gold. Like this week, when Matt Donovan earned his first NHL callup to the NY Islanders. Matt, of course, is the only born, raised and trained Oklahoman to play in the NHL. It’s a first with many years in the making. After that interview I took a couple of deep breaths. At a hamburger. Enjoyed some unseasonably warm Oklahoma weather, and digested my interview that occurred at Copper & Blue of Matt as well as what this call up really means for the state I call home. Here are those not-so-eloquent ramblings. READ THE FULL C&B INTERVIEW HERE >>>
Interviewing the young defenseman, Matt Donovan, is something that I had planned to do for at least a year now. I’d not done it for several reasons, most of them time related, but nonetheless it just never happened. The Bridgeport Sound changed my mind, as did the sharply tuned Donovan in his rookie season. Like out of nowhere, Matt Donovan became one of the best minor league defenders in the country. He scores, he skates, he passes, he assists — the kid seemingly got good. Unless you followed the pre-professional days of Donovan, this likely surprised you a bit. While hockey fans were seemingly impressed and Isles fans basked in a prospect with great determination, the culmination of what was and is occurring in Matt Donovan’s early pro career is fantastic to behold. But when you understand that this kid came from a hockey community with great tradition, but one where hockey is one of the least likely sports for kids to embrace, the story becomes infintely more interesting.
In most cases it’s hard to label a 21 year old minor hockey player in Bridgeport, Connecticut a “trailblazer”, but in this case I dare you to find a word that better describes the situation. From a hockey family, raised in a hockey rink, schooled in how to play the game from his father, increasingly supported by his mother; Matt was determined to make hockey important. You can tell it in his voice. You can tell it by the way he plays the game on the edge at times. By the way he produces a team mentality on and off the ice. He’s a trailblazer of the sport birthed from the least likely of hockey places.
Oklahoma City needs Matt Donovan to be a success. No pressure Matt. Why? Because he proves the theory that A) hockey works in Oklahoma, not just as an entertaining sport, but as an opportunity for young people, and B) it simply puts more focused attention on the potential, and I believe eventual growth, of the sport in this state. Could hockey be a destination point without him? Sure. It has before. But it does give a hardy “I told you so” mentality to people who support hockey in this community.
When I interviewed Matt a few weeks ago we talked briefly about hockey in Oklahoma. He still trains and maintains his offseason regiment in Oklahoma. He’s unashamedly an Okie. His family still vigorously supports his career, and they understand how gifted their son truly is. Matt is probably like most kids who play hockey. He’s hard working. Dedicated to the sport. Unashamed to play the game his way. But imagine the opportunities afforded to those that play hockey in Canada and far North US states. The Donovan family makes no excuse in this regard, but I will — it’s hard to rise to hockey success in Oklahoma. You probably have a better chance of becoming mayor of the city than being it’s first true hockey player to crack an NHL roster.
The Isles have been gifted a solid defender. With a rookie season out of the gate like he’s had in Bridgeport it’s a strong likelihood that we see Matt Donovan as an Islander next season. His first NHL callup was a disastrous endeavor for the Islanders, but one where the AHL rookie earned 20 minutes on the ice, and subtle praises in the face of a beat down.
I never dreamt that I’d be cheering for an Islander. It feels sorta weird. But in the end, there’s much more at stake for one Islander — the chance to make further history, which has already begun with a bang.