Home sweet home
Ryan Donovan was all set and packed to head to Colorado to play junior hockey this season when he received a call from Niagara Falls Canucks coach Frank Pietrangelo with an offer he couldn’t refuse.
“Niagara Falls is a great organization and I’ve heard nothing but good things about Frank,” Donovan said. “It was an easy choice coming back home.”
The 19-year-old winger began his junior career with the Welland Junior Canadians two seasons ago and last year split time between Hawkesbury and Nepean of the Canadian Central Hockey League.
He enjoyed his time in the CCHL but was set to head out west when the Canucks opportunity opened up.
Pietrangelo worked hard to finalize a deal with Welland for Donovan’s rights after the Junior Canadians and Pelham earlier failed in their attempt to make a trade.
“It’s good to have him on board because he can do a lot of things. He’s a unique player for sure,” he said. “He’s a big kid and a good skater. He can do a little bit of everything and he’s a local kid as well. He brings a pretty good package.”
Pietrangelo wasn’t going to look a gift horse in the mouth.
“Sometimes you’re shaking the limbs and you’re waiting and nothing is falling and sometimes something like this happens and it falls into your lap and it’s almost too good to be true,” he said. “We were more than happy to bring him on board with us.”
Donovan is off to a strong start with three goals and four points in six games. He’s played both wings and with just about every forward unit, save for the big line of Ben Evans, Mitch Mendonca and Justin Kyle.
“I’ve had guys in and out of the lineup with injuries and suspensions so we’ve been forced to juggle things around,” Pietrangelo said. “He can play either wing which is great. He doesn’t care where he’s at, he’s just here to play.”
Donovan’s addition has given the Canucks even more depth up front.
“Every team that comes into Niagara Falls is going to try and shut down the Evans-Mendonca-Kyle line because of their numbers, but we’re much more than that,” Pietrangelo said. “We’ve all learned that if you’re not three or four lines deep, you’re not going to win consistently and you’re not going to win championships.
“It’s not easy to do that. Everyone has different expectations and wants to play maximum minutes so it’s not easy to find that balance for everybody. We seem have a really good room this year and guys are buying into what’s necessary to win.”
Donovan is happy to be home again, even if it has meant a bit of an adjustment.
“Living away from home, there’s not a lot of rules,” he said. “Now that I’m home everything is great. The guys took me in so it wasn’t too drastic of a change.”
Donovan said having mom and dad around has been a blessing.
“I feel like this gives me more time to focus. Being home and having my parents watch over me and make good decisions. I feel like it’s helped my performance.”
Donovan is also enjoying playing on a team which has won its first nine games and seem to be a close-knit unit away from the ice.
“We have a lot of fun. Everyone gets along and the guys are great,” he said. “We definitely pick and choose when to have our fun outside of the rink.”
The Canucks host the Lockport Regals Friday, then head to Pelham Sunday and Hamilton Monday.
“We’ve been fortunate. The guys have shown up to play every night and battled. We’ve had some one-sided games and some tight games where we’ve prevailed,” Pietrangelo said.
“When you are 9-0, teams aren’t stupid. You know you’re getting their best. Everyone wants to be the first team to win that game and it’s a star on their arm. We know we’ve got a bullseye on our back. When you’re on the top of the mountain, everyone wants to knock you off.”
Donovan said the Canucks aren’t taking anything for granted despite their strong start.
“Ben (Evans) really thrives on that as well, to be the best we can every night,” he said. “Our expectations in the room are to win every night. Every day come to the rink, work hard, get our passes on the tape and make sure everyone is working hard. It’s been proven you practice how you play.”
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