IPB Q&A With Matt Donovan on Growing Up in Oklahoma, Twitter and Making the Team
Earlier today, the Islanders’ Oklahoman defender Matt Donovan took a few minutes to discuss a wide range of topics. Donovan, 22, is one of a group of young defense prospects that made his NHL debut last year for the Islanders and is hoping to turn that into a regular gig at the Coliseum this fall. He is also active on Twitter @squatchdonovan and was honored in Oklahoma City earlier this summer on Matt Donovan Day.
In April, you played your first few NHL games; how did that feel?
Matt Donovan: It was unbelievable. As a kid coming from Oklahoma you don’t see that at all — I was the first born and raised kid from Oklahoma to make it to the NHL — and that was a pretty cool feeling. As any kid knows growing up playing hockey anywhere it’s your dream to play in the NHL and I finally made that dream a reality. It was very cool to play in the NHL a couple games and hopefully many more to come.
Growing up in Oklahoma, what’s the hockey environment like there? Are there a lot of rinks or are you guys playing more roller hockey? What was that like growing up?
With the recession it’s tough, you don’t see a lot of kids playing the past couple years. But now it’s starting to build up a little more and more kids are starting to play so it’s pretty good. There are a couple rinks here in the Oklahoma City area. It’s definitely growing… Hopefully more people start realizing now how good hockey actually is and that will hopefully get them more involved in hockey around here.
How did you originally get into hockey?
Well, my dad’s from Boston and he moved down here during college. Right before I was born he got into the rink business and started running the rinks here. There was a rink near my house when I was growing up… so he was running that rink when I was born. That’s how I got into it, I was a rink rat my whole life pretty much. We moved to Edmond when I was eight or nine and he ran a rink here in Edmond and now he’s still running a rink but it’s a different rink on the south side of Oklahoma City. My whole life, he’s been around the rinks and that’s definitely been a huge help in my career, having him at the rink and that lets me be able to get on the ice whenever I want and that’s kinda how I grew up. I was on the ice whenever I could be and I was always at the rink either on roller blades off the ice or on the ice with skates.
This summer, you had Matt Donovan Day in Oklahoma City. How did that come about?
Mayor Cornett caught wind that there was the first born and raised Oklahoman to make it to the NHL and I think he wanted to recognize me in being that first born and raised kid to make it to the NHL. Sometimes they recognize guys who make it to the NFL or NBA coming from Oklahoma. I went to the City Council meeting in Oklahoma City and he honored me and had Matt Donovan Day, so it was a pretty good experience.
You went to the City Council, did you do anything else special on that day?
No, not really. Just the city council meeting. I had a bunch of family and friends there that came to support me. It was pretty cool the way they honored me in front of the whole city council meeting. That was pretty much it. I spent the day with my family, we had a great day, but I skated and worked out just like a normal day.
You’re one of the more active players on Twitter, what do you enjoy about being on Twitter?
I have a lot of friends on Twitter so I think just messing with friends and saying some stuff that might get some attention from fans is pretty cool. Getting responses from fans saying how much they like you or how much they look up to you is very cool. It’s kind of a good way to keep in touch with people and mess around a little bit too.
One of the other things I noticed was ‘squatch’, your nickname.
[Laughs] Squatch Donovan, yeah that’s kind of a joke too. My roommates and I had a big on-going joke about how I was debating with them that I thought sasquatch was real and they didn’t think it was real. I took it to the next level, changing my Twitter name to ‘squatchdonovan’ and my bio says ‘semi-professional sasquatch tracker.’
To go back to hockey… In your first couple of NHL games, what did you notice as the biggest difference in the style of play as compared to the AHL?
I think it’s a little faster, the guys are a little bigger and a little stronger. The play just happens a little faster and your puck decisions have to be quicker. I think those are the big differences. Obviously there’s a ton of good players in the AHL and I think the NHL is just that little step above and everything has to be a little quicker and faster.
Off the ice, did you notice any big differences?
Off the ice, I think it’s the same. All the guys are great, all the staff is great. The big difference is that you fly everywhere and you’re not driving in a bus but you’re getting treated like top-level guys in the NHL. In the AHL, you’re kinda on a bus and fending for yourself.
Looking towards next season, there are a lot of young players and young defenders on the team. What do you think are your chances of being on the opening night roster?
Well, I hope they’re pretty good. Like you said there are a lot of young guys competing for spots on the team. Hopefully I’m one of those guys that is competing. I’m going to come into camp and battle and try my hardest to beat those guys out of that spot. Hopefully I can beat those guys out of that spot and be the one that makes that roster spot.
What do you think your best on-ice attribute is that can help you grab of those spots?
I think definitely vision on the ice and my offensive skills. I’ve always been an offensive defenseman so I think getting points and playing on the power play are some of my biggest attributes. Definetly trying to get better and better at playing more defensive and playing better defensively. I think I’m taking the right steps in that direction of getting better in those areas, but I definitely think that my offensive ability and vision on the ice are my best attributes.
As you’re training this summer, is there anything specific that you’re trying to work on?
Just getting faster and stronger… I’m definitely trying to get stronger and a little bit quicker and hopefully that will translate onto the ice.
Last question. This time last summer we would have been talking about your AHL debut and now we’re talking about your NHL debut. Do you feel like things have been moving fast for you the last couple years?
Definitely. Things happen very quickly and this is no exception. Going from college to AHL to NHL, it’s been a quick transition. Hopefully I’m making that transition well and the coaches and staff of the Islanders see that. I’m continuing to get better and better and hopefully some day soon — coming out of training camp hopefully — I’m able to show them that I’ve made the steps to become a full-time NHL player.