Donskov family

Matthew (left) and Anthony Donskov pose with their mother, Debbie, during last week's development camp at the OhioHealth Ice Haus

When you talk about the growth of Central Ohio hockey, you can’t tell the story without mentioning the Donskov family.

The late Paul Donskov was one of the pioneers when it comes to teaching the game in the capital city, helping coach players of all ages and skill levels after moving to Columbus in 1990.

His three sons – Anthony, Matthew and Misha – followed their dad into the game, first playing and then coaching. It’s a family that has an undying passion for the sport, and Donskov Hockey Development has become one of the leaders in hockey training and instruction in Central Ohio.

So when Blue Jackets director of player development Rick Nash was looking to add some experienced coaches to this year’s prospect development camp, he and his staff didn’t have to look far before deciding to invite Anthony and Matt as guests for last week’s activities. (Misha was elsewhere, as the 2023 Stanley Cup champion with Vegas is currently working as an assistant coach with the Dallas Stars.)

“It’s just a hockey royalty family in Columbus, Ohio,” Nash said. “As an organization grows older, you want to make sure history is remembered. There’s a foundation, and obviously with the history in hockey of the Donskov family, it’s a huge name. They were running schools and their dad was teaching hockey when hockey wasn’t even here in Columbus, Ohio, from an NHL level.

“It’s important that the organization in my mind honors families like that that help grow the game in Columbus.”

Donskov on ice

Anthony Donskov, left, coaches Blue Jackets prospect Aidan Hreschuk during a drill at the team's developement camp.

Now in its 25th year of hosting its own hockey camp in Central Ohio, the Donskov family works with players of all ages and skill levels, from the AAA Blue Jackets junior program all the way to professional and college players. And the chance to be on the ice and in the room with the next wave of future Blue Jackets was a unique experience they couldn’t turn down.

“It’s been awesome,” Anthony said. “It’s been enjoyable working with the young draft picks and, obviously, the coaching staff as well, getting a chance to learn and work with the guys. It’s certainly a passion point for both of us.

Matthew added, “It’s been a privilege and a humbling experience to be here and be involved with the team, being in the meetings day in and day out, to be on the ice with the draft picks and hopefully the future of the organization. It’s been a true pleasure.”

There are few in Central Ohio who can appreciate the growth of the sport over the years more than the Donskovs. When Paul – who passed away in April 2020 – first moved the family from London, Ontario, to Columbus in 1990, there was no professional hockey, and youth hockey barely registered on the map.

Paul was an evangelist of the game, helping spread the word wherever he could, and things started looking up when the minor league Columbus Chill came to town in 1991. That kicked off a love affair between the city and the game that only accelerated over time, first in the building of the Chiller ice rinks and eventually with the creation of the Blue Jackets.

“It’s been crazy,” said Anthony, who sports a close-cropped hairline that explains the next line. “We moved here in the early ‘90s, and the hockey landscape was like my hairline. We had 93 participants at the time. To see the way it is now, the growth of the game at every level has been really, really fun to watch. It’s night and day compared to the ‘90s. We have record numbers of kids participating in the sport. It’s fun to watch.”

When the Donskovs wanted to continue their hockey careers in their teenage years, they had to move elsewhere to develop at a level that would allow them to climb the ladder. They had varying levels of success – Anthony played for four years at Miami University, while Matthew (SUNY Cortland) and Misha (Norwich University) played at the NCAA Division III level – but it’s fair to say things are different now in the capital city.

There are a bevy of youth organizations that provide high-level training to Columbus kids, and the results have been obvious given the NHL players that have grown up in the city as well as many others who have played high-level junior hockey and college hockey.

“Back in the early ‘90s, if you were a hockey player, you had to go away to have an opportunity to get a scholarship or play major junior,” Anthony said. “Everything right now in Columbus is set for the players to have all the resources he or she needs to play at the collegiate level without having to go anywhere, which is awesome. Columbus is destination for hockey players. It’s been fun to see.”

The Blue Jackets invite guest coaches to development camp each season – notably, Ohio State women’s head coach Nadine Muzerall was one of the coaches a year ago – and for Nash, reaching out to the Donskovs was an easy choice this season. He’s looking for “the right people,” he said, and that’s what he found.

It proved to be a great experience for everyone involved, as Matthew said he enjoyed working with a group of 17- to 21-year-olds who are preparing to take their games to the highest level.

“I think what you see is the level of maturity they have at a young age,” he said. “They’re very dialed in. They’re very calculated in their approach and prepare for the on-ice and the off-ice accordingly. That’s part and parcel of why they’re here, because they’ve taken that step and they’re very serious about the game and their approach to it. It’s been a blast to get to know them. Great individuals, great character, and it’s been fun to be a part of the process this week.”

Interested in learning more about 2024-25 Ticket Plans? Please fill out the form below and a Blue Jackets representative will reach out with more information!