Matt Donovan, 21, is the first native Oklahoman to be a first-round National Hockey League (NHL) draft pick. Donovan began skating and playing hockey in Oklahoma City before leaving the state at 16 to pursue his hockey career. Moving up the ranks from Triple-A to the Junior League to college and Olympic teams, Donovan was drafted in 2010 by the New York Islanders and is now playing for their minor league affiliate, the Bridgeport (Connecticut) Sound Tigers.
Oklahoma Magazine: Matt, growing up in Oklahoma, how did you come to play hockey?
Matt Donovan: My dad helped run the Iceland Sports Center in Bethany when it was still open. Now he runs Blazers Ice Centre in Oklahoma City. I grew up watching the Blazers games.
OM: You were born and raised in Edmond, moved to Dallas when you were 16 to play Triple-A, then to Iowa to join the Cedar Rapids RoughRiders, then you joined the Denver Pioneers college team, and now you are playing in Connecticut for the Bridgeport Sound Tigers. That’s five cities in five states in six years. How do you like moving around so much?
MD: I don’t mind it. It’s kind of cool being in new places every year or two. I’ve loved every place I’ve been.
OM: Do you still consider yourself on Oklahoman?
MD: Yes. My parents still live in Edmond. I come back every summer for three or four months. I still love Oklahoma.
OM: You joined the Bridgeport Sound Tigers in time to suit up for the last few games of the 2010-2011 season. Did you get much playing time?
MD: I played six games at the end of the season, after our season ended in Denver. I got a lot of playing time. They put me in a lot of different situations. I think they just wanted to get my feet wet. I think I did pretty well those last six games.
OM: How does the pro game compare to college-level hockey?
MD: This is a lot faster. You have to make your decisions with the puck a lot quicker. The guys are grown men, they are not college kids. They are bigger and faster.
OM: Twenty-one years old and brand new to the pros. Do you feel like you are fitting in well with your teammates or do you sometimes still feel like a kid?
MD: I’m fitting in pretty quickly. We actually have a pretty young team. A lot of the guys are around my age. I don’t even know if we have any guys in their 30s.
OM: You finished two years at the University of Denver before the Islanders signed you. Do you plan to finish college?
MD: My parents are kind of bugging me about taking classes and working for my degree. Eventually I’ll start taking classes. I’m considering a degree in business management or criminology.
OM: We know you love hockey, but we have to ask. Are you a football fan? What teams do you root for?
MD: I love football. I root for the Sooners, obviously. I also root for OSU. My girlfriend goes to Oklahoma State.
OM: You live in Connecticut and your girlfriend is in Stillwater? That’s truly a long distance romance.
MD: We’ve been dating for almost two years now. We’ve known each other since middle school. It’s tough, but it works.
OM: Well, you are now in your first full season of pro hockey. Does this feel like the “big year?” What are your goals for this year?
MD: I’m hoping this is the first year in a long professional career. I’m just working my hardest, just the way I’ve grown up. Hopefully I’ll be called up [to the Islanders] sooner or later this year. I wouldn’t have signed if I didn’t think I had good chance of playing in the NHL this year.