Not only does Matt Donovan have the distinction of being the first NHL player born and raised in Oklahoma, he may also be the only one who has gone looking for Bigfoot a time or two.
Being from a state that has had its share of perceived sasquatch sightings, Donovan and a group of friends back home took an interest in the ape-like creature that has been rumored by witnesses for decades across the continent.
Donovan has gone on hikes in search of the creature before, and while he may not have made any discoveries just yet, there is something else he's found within the past couple of weeks - his name on the back of an NHL jersey once more.
"It feels unbelievable," Donovan said Thursday from the Predators hotel in Santa Monica, California. "It was just kind of step-by-step, first taking the chance to come back and sign an AHL deal, being a leader and playing well in Milwaukee."
Play well in Milwaukee he did after signing an AHL deal with the Admirals for the 2018-19 season. It didn't take long before he was leading the Ads in scoring - and the big club took notice.
After posting 12 points in 13 games, the Predators inked Donovan to a two-year contract, showing interest in the blueliner as a potential NHL call-up if need be. On Feb. 25, Donovan got the call to Nashville, and just hours later, he was in the lineup against the Edmonton Oilers.
A strong-skating, puck-moving defenseman with an offensive touch, Donovan got his first crack in the League with the New York Islanders back in 2012 after skating two seasons at the University of Denver. Donovan appeared in 52 games with the Isles in 2013-14, and 12 more the next season, but after he was unable to crack the NHL lineup once more, he went overseas to Frolunda HC for two seasons and excelled in his role.
It was enough to catch the attention of the Predators organization, exactly what Donovan was hoping for: another shot in North America and the NHL.
"That was my thinking the whole time going over there," Donovan said. "I was thinking maybe one year and have a good year and improve my game, and then it turned into two years and then I was like, 'Well, I have a good thing over here, but I know I can play in the NHL and I want to give it another shot.'"
Donovan has skated in two games for the Preds thus far and collected an assist, his first NHL point in four years, and whether or not he's in the lineup, all the 28-year-old wants to do is show the club why they gave him a two-way deal in the first place.
"I just want to make the most of every opportunity that I can," Donovan said. "I've got to prove when I am in the lineup that I deserve to be in the lineup every night. Sometimes that's not the way it works out, and sometimes you don't really have the opportunity to be in the lineup every night, but I just want to prove that when they need me, I can be there and help the team win games."
Donovan hasn't been back to Milwaukee since that call at the end of February - at least not for hockey purposes.
Over the weekend, he flew back to Wisconsin for the birth of his second son, Lawson, who arrived on Sunday. With everyone being happy and healthy, Donovan then met the Preds back in Anaheim on Monday night as they began their California trip for the week.
"It's been pretty crazy, pretty stressful, but most of the stress is gone now," Donovan said. "I had the phone on loud and was on call 24/7, so I was happy and lucky that I got to be there."
No offense to his family, but Donovan wouldn't mind if he doesn't make it back up to Milwaukee for another few months with Nashville's regular season winding down. Although he's only been a part of the group for a short time, Donovan sees the potential within the Predators locker room, and like the rest of his teammates, there is still a belief they can find their stride with the postseason approaching.
"This group knows that we have the skill and the work ethic and everything it takes to be a winning team and go far in the playoffs," Donovan said. "We know this group can do it, and I think everyone still has that confidence, it's just getting on a little roll here to get that confidence going into playoffs."
Whenever the offseason does begin for Donovan, it will be back to Oklahoma City - and Milwaukee this time, too - to help run his summer hockey camps, appropriately under the name of Squatch Hockey Co. It's a perfect way for Donovan to not only give back to the next generation, but also to show them a story of perseverance on the ice from someone who made it back to where he wanted to be.
"I have always been into doing hockey camps and lessons and giving back to the Oklahoma City hockey community," Donovan said. "It's not very big, so everyone knows everyone, and I've always loved doing camps for kids and giving my time and money back into the hockey community where I grew up."
Donovan may even find time for a sasquatch hike as well. If he finds what he's looking for, it would be quite a story to tell when he arrives back in Nashville for training camp in September.