Okie Islander

Matt Donovan IllustrationMatt Donovan makes it look easy.
He moves smoothly and effortlessly across the ice, gracefully stripping the
puck from his opponents—or checking them into the boards.

The 23-year-old Edmond native,
now a defenseman for the New York Islanders, is the only professional hockey
player raised and trained in Oklahoma. It was Donovan’s father who inspired his
love of hockey. Larry Donovan owns the Oklahoma City’s Blazers Ice Centre, home
of the Oklahoma City Oil Kings, a youth team not unlike the ones Donovan grew
up with. Larry grew up playing hockey in Boston and passed the love of the game
straight to the next generation. Donovan credits his father for pushing him on
the rink, yet never so hard that it became more of a chore than a game.

“My father has run ice rinks in Oklahoma City
my entire life,” says Donovan, “That’s how I got started in hockey. Even as a
baby, I was a rink rat. Whether it was hanging out at public skate or
practicing on the ice by myself, I was always doing something related to hockey
while my dad was working.”

Donovan with the Sound Tigers

As a defenseman, Donovan is like
a skating wall behind the blue line. But he’s equally good on offense,
aggressively moving the puck into scoring position—or scoring the goal himself.
This aggression, paired with a sheer love of the game, drove him from his
earliest days on the ice into the pros.

“My attitude has always been to prove people
wrong about growing up playing hockey in Oklahoma. I came up through the ranks
of hockey and played in the best leagues in the U.S. Nobody expected an
Oklahoma kid to play at such high levels,” he says, “I always wanted to prove
that I could play with the best kids in the world, even though I was just some
kid that nobody had heard of from Oklahoma.”

Young DonovanDonovan may be brand new to the
NHL, but he already has plenty to be proud about. In the under-20 division of
the World Junior Championships, he and his teammates captured a gold medal.
Before playing in the NHL, he played for Iowa’s Cedar Rapids Roughriders in the
United States Hockey League. In his first season as a Roughrider, he was named
to the USHL’s All-Rookie Team. In his second season, he secured a spot on the
All-Star Team. With or without those previous accolades, now simply making it
to the pros is huge. The first professional game he played is one he says he’ll
never forget.

Donovan made his NHL debut on
April 3, 2012, against the New Jersey Devils. A more-than-solid prospect, he
was signed after completing his sophomore year at the University of Denver. He
spent one season honing his game with the Islanders’ American Hockey League
affiliate, the Bridgeport Sound Tigers. His game, however, was already pretty
well honed. With ten goals and 32 assists, he was the team’s leading
defenseman.

The Islanders called him up at
the end of last season with just enough time to play three games. In that short
time, he made six shots on the goal, a respectable number for a defenseman.
This year, the Islanders will be leaning on him to replace Mark Streit, who is
also well-known as a defenseman capable of taking the puck to the other side of
the ice.

Donovan brings his love of the
game back to Oklahoma every summer with the Matt Donovan Hockey Camp. The
weeklong camp hosts players from ages five to eight, many of them from Edmond
and north Oklahoma City. Donovan pays it forward, giving young players an
opportunity he enjoyed as a kid, but one that may be hard to find in Oklahoma.

“It’s awesome for me to see each
kid come into camp on the first day with a smile on their face and leave the
last day with the same smile,” he says, “Knowing that they had fun at my camp
is the biggest thing for me because if these young kids are having fun while
learning new things on the ice, they will want to keep playing.”

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