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Rookie defenseman Matt Donovan, from Oklahoma, proves he can play in NHL

Matt Donovan celebrates after scoring a goal in

Matt Donovan celebrates after scoring a goal in the second period of a game against the Phoenix Coyotes at Nassau Coliseum. (Oct. 8, 2013) Photo Credit: AP

Don't jump to conclusions. Islanders rookie Matt Donovan may have spent his formative years on the hot, wind-swept plains of Oklahoma, where football is king and ice is mostly found in beverages.

But he was on skates before he can remember -- "2 or 3," he guessed -- and driving a Zamboni by the time he was a teen -- "a rink rat my whole life."

His father, a Boston native and former high school hockey player, ran an ice rink in Edmond, Okla., near Oklahoma City. Donovan played football and golf through middle school, but his real passion was hockey. From those unlikely geographical roots, Donovan on Tuesday night arrived at his first NHL goal.

Don't assume it was accidental just because Donovan's power-play slap shot, apparently smothered by Phoenix goalie Mike Smith, crawled weakly through Smith's legs and crept slowly over the goal line. "I was headed to the bench because I thought he saved it," Donovan said, "then I heard the crowd cheer and I turned around and everyone was coming to me, so I figured it went in."

The fact is, the Islanders like Donovan, a defenseman, for his offensive proclivities. In the past two seasons with the team's Bridgeport affiliate, he totaled 24 goals and 93 assists.

"The thing about Matt," Islanders coach Jack Capuano said, "is that we've talked about losing Mark [Streit, gone to Philadelphia as a free agent], losing some offensive production and a guy on our power play, a guy that jumps up in the play as our fourth offensive guy. Matt's got that vision and creativity that I like, the way he pursues on the offensive side."

After getting an NHL glimpse at the end of the 2011-12 season, appearing in three Islanders games, Donovan, now 23, is feeling he knows "a little better what it takes to stick here, and hopefully I can do that."

So, while there were attempts in the Oklahoma culture of his childhood to keep Donovan in football, "but my parents liked me playing hockey" and, at 16, he spent a year of Midget Triple-A in Dallas, then two with Cedar Rapids, Iowa, in the USHL.

"I didn't expect to get drafted [in the fourth round by the Islanders in 2008]," he said. "And then I had a good first year in college [University of Denver] and saw people my age signing [to play professionally.] That's when I thought I had a chance at the NHL."

Now better than later for this Sooner.

Notes & quotes: Frans Nielsen was fined $5,000 by the NHL Wednesday for slashing Coyotes forward Martin Hanzal on Tuesday night . . . Defenseman Griffin Reinhart, 19, was returned to his junior club in Edmonton . . . Capuano said wing Cal Clutterbuck, recovered from a deep skate cut, "is looking good" for tomorrow night's game in Chicago.


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