Most players who take a little time between sports in high school and college talk about getting bigger, faster, and stronger.
Swampscott High graduate Conor Donovan wanted to use his to get smarter.
Not in terms of ratings, which were never a problem for the hard winger who played for the Big Blue and had spent the last two seasons with the Worcester Railers junior team. He wanted to focus on hockey IQ – being a thoughtful type of player who a coach can trust and deploy in any situation.
âWhen I was looking for a program I wanted to make sure that my hockey IQ improved and Worcester was great for that,â said Donovan, who now plays for the Eastern Hockey League. Railers at the highest level of Tier III. junior hockey across the country. “When I’m there against the better competition, it makes me play better.”
This work paid off when Donovan made a commitment to play varsity hockey at the University of Southern Maine, where he will begin in the fall of 2022. It is one of the top Division 3 programs in the country in one of New England’s toughest leagues: all the boxes Donovan was happy to check out as part of his recruiting experience.
âI always want to challenge myself and step out of my comfort zone, so it was like ‘What’s the next challenge?’ Switching to a different state, playing for a team with an old school coach with a serious mindsetâ¦ that’s a perfect choice for me, âsaid Donovan, a 5-foot-7, 150-pounder. comfortable left or right wing.
In fact, he’s an example of what he loves about junior hockey. A center or right winger in high school, where he graduated in the top 10 on Swampscott High’s all-time scoring list with 115 points, he played mostly on the Railers left side. This opened up a multitude of new learning opportunities for the smart and heady skater.
âPeople might not think it’s a big adjustment, but when you’re working on systems, which is important in preparing for college, there’s a lot to learn about where to be and understand the job at hand. a deep level, âDonovan explained. “I think versatility and adaptability are important, and so many guys who come from the North Shore have done it successfully.”
Despite healing an ankle injury, Donovan has 11 points in 14 games this season. He moved up from the Railers’ Premier level squad late last year and had three points in five playoff games in a successful run.
“Conor is a great example of hard work and determination,” said EHL Railers head coach Sean Bertoni. âConor started last year with our EHLP team, his work ethic was noticed and he was raised on our EHL team and became an impact player immediately.
“He is the ultimate competitor and we are extremely happy that he becomes a student athlete in Southern Maine. He is a great example to all. We look forward to seeing him play to the next level.”
Son of Fisher College assistant baseball coach Al Donovan (who led Salem State to a spot in an NCAA tournament as head coach of the Vikings), Conor plans to study business management, university administration or exercise science. He liked the diverse academic offerings of southern Maine as well as the campus atmosphere.
âThe campus made me feel like a place I wanted to be for the long haul,â Donovan said. âHaving the ice rink directly on campus creates a great atmosphere. And the competition is incredible. Probably 60 percent of our games are against the top 25 teams in Division 3. â
In his year and a half of junior hockey so far, Donovan has also improved a lot athletically. He lives with a few teammates in Worcester and has had great coaches and tutors through the Railers program to make it a full immersion style program to prepare for college hockey.
“It’s something I needed to grow as a person and a player,” he said. “We get up at 5 or 6 in the morning to practice, have team breakfasts, systems meetings. The whole organization from top to bottom is doing a great job for all of us.”
After a short holiday break, Donovan will be back on the ice for the Railers next year. This year’s Frozen Finals playoffs will be held in Providence, Rhode Island, and Worcester hopes to be there at the end in a still very competitive atmosphere.
“We hope we can have a race, it’s a pretty good season so far,” said Donovan. âAnyone can beat anybody at any time in this league. It’s always good hockey.