My first hockey hero was the ‘Rocket’. Young and driven by numbers, it was always the most goals, most home runs, or the most of just about anything that would gain my interest. That all changed in the mid-to-late sixties, when a defenseman from Parry Sound, Ontario changed the game of hockey. While Doug Harvey of the Montreal Canadians was responsible for adding the phrase ‘offensive defenseman’ to the hockey lexicon, it would be ten years later that a young Bobby Orr not only defined the phrase but gave it flesh, he also changed the way I watched the game. I became a fan of the men working the blue line. ( Photo: Lordship Gun Club - 2009)
A lot has been written recently about shot blocking in the NHL. This is nothing new to the game, as Rob McGowan points out in his latest offering, ‘The Value of Andrew MacDonald’, but I still have trouble understanding what would posses a person to do it. How can the very brain that tells a body when to inhale and exhale to support life tell that same body to position itself in front of a shot and take the punishment? Then I remember when I was fifteen years old, positioning myself in the line of fire of skeet shooters just to make a day of fishing more fun.
I live and grew up in Stratford, CT., a typical New England town bordered on the south by the Long Island Sound and the east by the Housatonic River. Where the river and the sound meet is an area called Lordship, where a gun club was formed and hosted our nations’ first ‘Great Eastern Skeet Shoot Tournament’, nearly twenty years before I added weight to my first diaper. By the time I turned fifteen, some 35 years after the first target was thrown over the Lordship Flats, two million targets annually were being tossed from the 12 cement block Skeet fields and 8 Trap fields at the 27 acre club.
When not water skiing in the river, my friend Gerry and I would take his boat out fishing. We learned, quite by accident, that if we could position the boat properly, the shot fired at the clay pigeons on shore would land in the boat. It was just a matter of lining up the boat so the flash from the scatter gunners would be in line with the tiny powdery cloud formed when the target was destroyed. When properly positioned you would see the flash, the powdery cloud, wait another second to hear the report of the gun and have another second or two to turn your back toward the incoming shot. The reward was the feeling of several dozen simultaneous bee stings and enough lead collected in the hull of the boat to use as weights on our next fishing trip. So ‘A-Mac’ blocked 185 shots this season, terrific, for Gerry and I that was a decent weekend.
The Bridgeport Sound Tigers will be losing some of their talented blue-liners for next season, and Matt Donovan is sure to be one of them. I would like nothing more than to watch Matt Donovan play at the Webster Bank Arena for another season but will have to settle for watching him play as a New York Islander on TV. Matt embodies everything I respect and enjoy about a defenseman. His numbers from his first year as a Tiger (10-35-45 and a plus 11) are slightly better than A-Mac (9-23-32 +7) posted in his final full season with Bridgeport. His career has been fast tracking from the very beginning. (Photo: Pope Steve XXVII)
His first season with the USHL's Cedar Rapids Rough Riders, he made the All-Rookie team. In the '08-09 season, his second with the Riders he made the All-Star team after posting 19 goals and 32 assists in 57 games played. The next step for Matt was the University of Denver in the WCHA. First year, All-Rookie season, second year All-Star with 9 goals and 23 assists in 42 games. Leaving school after two years for the next challenge he landed in Bridgeport. First year, All-Rookie with 10 goals and 35 assists in 72 games. There is no need for him to stay at this level for one more year just so he can garner an appearance in the AHL's All Star game, his talent is needed on the Island, and it is needed now.
Matt is a very strong and agile skater capable of keeping up with or catching all but the quickest of forwards. He is a thief of pucks in the neutral zone and quickly becomes an offensive threat. He has a sniper like shot that very few defenseman can match. All hockey players can shoot, it's one of the first things you learn to do as a kid, and more fun to practice than any other necessary skill. What makes one player better than others is knowing exactly when to pull the trigger. Matt inherited this from his mother.
Matt's mom, Kathryn Drennan Donovan, is a graduate of East Central University (Once a Tiger, always a Tiger) Ada, OK. A twelve time All-American skeet shooter, she was inducted into the Oklahoma State Skeet Association's Hall of Fame in 1988. Just as in the game of hockey, a successful shot comes with skill, training, patience and knowing not just how to pull the trigger, but the precise moment that it should be done. Matt learned this lesson well.
The Islanders long rebuild is nearing completion, on defense I would say it is done; it is now time for graduation. Calvin de Haan and Matt Donovan could both make the team coming out of camp this summer joining A-Mac and Hamonic as the nucleus of a young and talented defense -'Born in Bridgeport'. With Mark Streit mentoring this young group, I see years of success for these Islanders, and I can guarantee that Mr. Donovan will play a huge part in that success.
Good Luck Matt, and thanks Kat!