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Matt Donovan’s fundraising efforts aid Oklahoma youth hockey

Hockey has taken Matt Donovan to a number of places around the world. From Cedar Rapids to Denver to Long Island to Connecticut to Rochester to Frolunda to Nashville and Milwaukee, there’s one spot the longtime professional defenseman has never forgotten.

As the first born, raised, and trained Oklahoman to play in the NHL, Donovan has never left his roots behind. Nearly a decade after he began his professional career the 30-year-old defenseman, who recently re-signed with the AHL’s Milwaukee Admirals, has continued to give back to his hometown. What was once an idea designed to help a poor college student has evolved into a money-raising effort to help youth hockey.

While in college Donovan held youth hockey camps and private lessons at Oklahoma City’s Blazers Ice Centre where his father, Larry, is the general manager. He kept at it after turning pro and an apparel line, Squatch Hockey, was introduced to further the fundraising efforts.

(The name Squatch Hockey was inspired by the television show “Finding Bigfoot” and from the large number of sasquatch sightings in Oklahoma.)

“I love doing the camps and helping out youth hockey wherever I can, especially in Oklahoma,” Donovan told NBC Sports.

Among those organizations benefiting include the Oklahoma Youth Hockey Association and the Zach Tays Scholarship Fund, which helps kids get involved and stay in hockey.

Donovan doesn’t do this alone. His wife, Hallie, fills apparel orders and promotes the brand through their social media channels, and lifelong friend Josh Berge, who also coaches the University of Oklahoma men’s hockey team, runs the camps and lessons during the AHL season.

The work Donovan has put in is paying off. Two of his former campers, Matt Henry (Dallas Stars U15) and Will Brenner (Cedar Rapids Roughriders, USHL) are making their way through junior hockey in hopes to following in his footsteps.

Growing up, Donovan looked up to the Central Hockey League’s Blazers, aspiring one day to be a professional just like them. Now, it’s kids in Oklahoma hoping to be the next Matt Donovan.

“I want to show kids if I could do it so can they,” said Donovan, who has started hosting camps in Milwaukee. “I grew up doing the same summer camps that they’re doing. When I turned pro that was where my focus turned, [to] helping these kids get to where I am.

“Even if they don’t get to where I am, I want them to be able to go to the rink and have fun and play the game that I grew up playing and loving.”

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Syracuse Crunch team with local hospital to sterilize PPE

Syracuse Crunch

Personal Protective Equipment is critical for the heroes on the frontlines fighting COVID-19 and the ability to extend its use can provide a much-needed solution to the global supply shortage.

Dr. Robert Corona, CEO of Upstate Medical University, recently learned of the process professional hockey teams use to sanitize their equipment and wanted to see if these machines could be repurposed to disinfect PPE.

He reached out to the Syracuse Crunch, a nearby American Hockey League organization, about the effectiveness and availability of the team’s Sani Sport machines. The franchise quickly made the equipment available to the hospital and in less than a week Upstate Medical University came to an encouraging conclusion.

“After careful analysis of the Sani Sport and other peer-reviewed published decontamination testing data by our infection control team, infectious disease specialists, microbiology team and other clinical experts, we have made the decision to use Sani Sport to decontaminate our face shields,” Dr. Corona said in a statement. “We have developed a specific process for collection of the used face shields, decontamination and re-issuing of the face shields.  Thank you to the Syracuse Crunch!”

For now, these machines will be used solely to clean face shields.

“We used methodology similar to the process which uses the ‘predicate device’ analysis. The literature supports killing the virus on hard surfaces,” Dr. Corona said when reached by email. “We are limiting our process to face shields only because no specific studies have been on N-95 masks material.”

The hockey community has contributed to the global fight against COVID-19 in a variety of ways but this innovative approach could provide immediate assistance.

“Right now, we can’t give back to the community by playing hockey, but we can play an active role in helping people battle COVID-19 with the equipment we have in our locker room,” Crunch owner Howard Dolgon told NBC Sports. “We have learned over the years that things work in various ways.”

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Scott Charles is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @ScottMCharles.

AHL will not resume season before May

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The American Hockey League won’t be returning any time soon as we wait out the COVID-19 pandemic.

Four days after announcing play was suspended, the AHL said things will remain that way until at least May. Following the NHL’s decision on Monday, players will also be able to return to their primary residences should they choose.

NHL Network’s Brian Lawton Tweeted on Monday that the AHL would soon announce the remainder of its season would be canceled.

Over the weekend the ECHL and SPHL shut things down for the season, joining numerous leagues in North America and Europe to end early. The KHL, however, remains in play — at least for the time being. Nur-Sultan Barys and Jokerit pulled out of the Gagarin Cup playoffs in the last few days, which lead to the league announcing a one-week break to develop a new playoff format for the six remaining Russian teams.

Follow this NBC News live update thread for more on the coronavirus pandemic.

MORE:
How grassroots hockey has been affected by COVID-19
Where the NHL left off with 2019-20 season in limbo
Looking at shortened and postponed NHL seasons.

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Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.

Hockey leagues following NHL’s lead

Empty stands before fans enter the arena
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In the aftermath of the announcement that the National Hockey League will pause the 2019-20 regular season, the AHL and ECHL have issued similar statements.

In addition, the Canadian Hockey League and its three regional leagues, the Ontario Hockey League, Quebec Major Junior Hockey League, and Western Hockey League, announced that the balance of the 2019-20 season and all hockey activity shall be paused immediately until further notice.

According to the IIHF, the 2020 Ice Hockey World Championship has not been cancelled as of yet. The event is not slated to start until early May and a decision is not needed immediately.

The NWHL also announced that the 2020 Isobel Cup Final between the Boston Pride and Minnesota Whitecaps has been postponed.

The entire sports community is in uncharted waters and as for what is next, it’s anyone’s guess.

 

Scott Charles is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at phtblog@nbcsports.com or follow him on Twitter @ScottMCharles.

Road less traveled: Some NHL teams moving AHL squads closer

DENVER — Jason Dickinson encountered quite a few bumps in the road on his route to the NHL. Good thing for his trusty truck.

Dickinson was up and down between the Dallas Stars and their American Hockey League affiliate, the Texas Stars, a total of 17 times during the 2017-18 season.

Sometimes, the forward would join the team from the road. And sometimes, he would make that 183.5-mile trek along the interstate in his truck.

That’s a rather easy call-up commute by league standards: From rink to rink, the average distance between NHL teams and their AHL partners is roughly 460 miles (740.3 kilometers).

Currently, there are a half-dozen NHL teams that have affiliates located more than 1,200 miles (1,931.2 kilometers) away.

The longest jaunt? From the Utica Comets in New York to the Vancouver Canucks, which is a 2,918-mile (4,696 kilometers) coast-to-coast expedition.

The shortest? A tie between the San Jose Sharks/San Jose Barracudas and the Winnipeg Jets/Manitoba Moose. That’s simply a short walk down the hallway thanks to shared arenas.

Over the past few seasons, a few teams have moved their minor league affiliates closer to base camp. The Colorado Avalanche relocated their farm team from San Antonio, Texas, to Loveland, Colorado, in 2018 and Ottawa a year earlier moved its from Binghamton, New York, to Belleville, Ontario.

The Vegas Golden Knights recently announced their purchase of an AHL franchise from Spurs Sports & Entertainment, operators of the San Antonio Rampage. The plan is to relocate the team from Texas to Henderson, Nevada, and begin play at the Orleans Arena next season.

It makes sense having players nearby for practical (emergency call-up) and logistical (easier for executives to catch games) purposes.

Avalanche assistant general manager Craig Billington lives in Denver but spends about 80% of his time working with the Eagles in Loveland, which is about 50 miles (80.5 kilometers) away.

”When you take into account the viewing and the communication that goes on, it really benefits from a geographical proximity,” Billington explained. ”Information travels quite quickly and enables us to feel connected – the coaching staff, all the players, the trainers, the benefit of doctors and the medical support.”

Eagles forward Jayson Megna is no stranger to making various NHL/AHL treks. He has taken that long flight from Utica to Vancouver while with the Canucks. He’s gone from Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins to the Pittsburgh Penguins (264 miles, 424.9 kilometers). He knows the trip from the Hartford Wolf Pack to the New York Rangers (115 miles, 185 kilometers).

The current commute, from Loveland to Denver, is more than manageable for a player who’s been added, recalled or returned on loan five times this season. Theoretically, he could be back at home in Fort Collins that night after a game.

”Super easy,” said the 30-year-old Megna, who has played in 121 NHL games. ”There’s not any issues with travel plans. You still feel good and prepared for a game.”

Not that players mind the travel – any sort of travel.

”I mean, when you get called up to the NHL you have a certain amount of adrenaline,” Megna said. ”Guys just make it happen.”

Take goaltender Calvin Pickard, for instance: He played in weekend games for the Grand Rapids Griffins last month, before getting a quick call to join the Detroit Red Wings to make a start.

”Just a quick drive,” Pickard said of the 157-mile (252.7 kilometer) commute. ”Just had to go grab my gear.”

Speaking of gear, that can be quite an ordeal for players who must take a flight to join their teams.

”The hockey bag is always the last one off the plane. Every time,” Dickinson said. ”You’re always the last one out.”

That’s why Dickinson preferred to make the drive from Cedar Park, Texas, to Dallas in his truck.

As an added bonus to driving, he had his own transportation while in town.

”It sucks when you’re stuck in your city and you have to beg guys to pick you up at the hotel,” said Dickinson, who has eight goals and 10 assists in 55 games for Dallas this season. ”It makes it easy to feel a part of the area. You don’t feel like you’re coming into a whole new city and trying to figure things out.”