At this time last season, our #32 Sam Donovan was still in the middle of the final season her very successful and award winning career as a member of the Brown University Women’s Hockey Team. Her season and collegiate career drew to a close on February 17th this year, and ten days later Sam became a member of our Pod. And a couple of weeks later, she picked up her first NWHL point. More than that, we were treated to a three game preview of not only the skill set, but the mindset of Sam Donovan. And that mindset has always been about tenacity, perseverance and pride in her game and sport. Her iron will to prevail. We were delighted by this upon her arrival, but not surprised. Sam had been awarded Brown University’s prestigious Chelsea McMillan Award for Pride and Perseverance for her play in her senior season. And in her junior season, and in her sophomore season. Sam has continued to bring that same iron will onto the ice each game, each period, each shift with our Whale.
The iron will from Irondale. So Cetacean Nation wondered how that came about and wanted to know a bit about how Sam got her start in hockey. We asked, and here is what Sam told us. “ I started skating practically before I could walk. At the time I started skating, my dad was the head coach at Park Center High School (MInnesota) and they had won a couple of state tournaments. I idolized Krissy Wendell and aspired to be just like her”. Krissy was the star of those teams that Sam’s Dad coached, and later a World Champion and Olympic bronze medalist. Sam continued “ However, it took some time for me to like playing. Apparently the first time I went skating, I hated it. I took my first steps onto the ice and fell flat on my face. And I was complaining about being cold. I guess nothing has changed too much... minus the fact that I love to play now! I wouldn’t travel halfway across the country if I didn’t!” Sam also added this interesting bit of her family’s hockey history. She told us “Hockey started on my dad’s side of the family. Almost everyone on his side plays or played. No one played on my mom’s side. I have one cousin on my mom’s side, Maddie Rooney and we’re really close. She’s the closest person I have to a sister.” And yes, she is THAT Maddie Rooney, Olympic gold medal winning goalie for Team USA this year.
Sam’s picked herself up off the ice after that first face plant, and her hockey career picked up as well. Cetacean Nation had learned that she began playing for her high school as a seventh grader, and asked her about what that was like. Sam replied “ Yes, I started playing for the high school team at Irondale in the 7th grade. I played a year of Peewees the year before that which was arguably one of my most favorite years. I learned a lot and it prepared me well for the high school speed and physicality. I always dreamed of playing in college. Growing up, my dad always told me that playing in college was like playing in the NHL for women because (at the time) the NWHL didn’t exist.” It will be this year’s class of graduating seniors who will be the first to have played their whole collegiate career knowing the NWHL exists. It was during her years at Irondale that Sam started wearing her #32 hockey sweater. She informed that it came about this way. “ I’ve always been a forward. My backwards skating definitely needs improvement. I chose #32 as a 7th grader because that was one of the only numbers left when I moved up to play for the high school team. The number just kind of stuck after that.” Her days at Irondale, also included time on the soccer and lacrosse fields as well. But on the ice rink, Sam was legendary, and compiled 321 points in her career. Forty-three came on goals she scored as a senior, when she was runner-up MS Hockey in the State of Hockey as well. Cetacean Nation wondered if Sam had any favorite moment from those years. She answered, giving a nod to passionate MInnesota hockey fans. “ That’s tough. I loved high school hockey. We had a huge rivalry with Mounds View, so playing then was always super fun. The support we got from the fans (from both sides) was indescribable.”
As we referenced a few times here and in her previous interview, Sam continued her education and hockey career at Brown University. Cetacean Nation asked Sam how she came to make that choice. She told us “I visited a couple of schools on the East Coast and really loved the campus and open curriculum Brown offered. I was nervous about moving away from my fam, but I’m glad that I did it. I learned a lot and met a lot of new people. My parents also came out once every semester to watch my games. I Brown’s open curriculum provided me with an opportunity to challenge myself and take classes that I normally wouldn’t or couldn’t take at any other school.” Sam continued “I had no idea what I wanted to study when I went into my freshman year. I thought about studying in science, but it wasn’t for me. I figured Business, Entrepreneurship, and Organizations (Economics Track) was a concentration that would enable me to do many different things post-college if I chose to do so. It seemed like a broad field of study for someone (me) who had no idea what I wanted to do. BEO has three different tracks (economics, entrepreneurship, and tech) and you have to choose one of those three tracks sometime in your junior year. I really liked this option because up until your junior year, most of the core requirements are the same within all 3 tracks, allowing students to explore their true interests in business. So if I started in the entrepreneurship track, it wouldn’t be too hard to change my area of focus in my junior year and the information we retained wouldn’t have been irrelevant.” She retained the information very well, earning a First Team All Ivy Academic Hockey in her final season. Also on the hockey side of things, Sam brought more than her iron will to Brown’s hockey program, she brought them their leading goal scorer. Playing in every one of Brown’s games during her four years, she led the Brown Bears in goals each season.
So that is some of the foundation that Sam built on her way to the Whale and her career in the NWHL. Cetacean Nation asked Sam if she was involved in any coaching presently, and she explained “ I’m not coaching at the moment, but I love assisting my old high school team in any way that I can when it doesn’t conflict with my work schedule. I’d love to coach sometime in the future though!” And as one of our returning players, Cetacean Nation also asked Sam about her thoughts on the two versions of the Whale she’s experienced. She replied “ Well, as many fans are aware, the team is A LOT different than last year - both good and bad. I’m super grateful for the teammates I met last season. They were a huge part in my decision to come back. We have a great group of girls again, and they have proven themselves relentless. I’m so happy with how they’ve played in the last couple of games and I wish I could’ve been there to support them! I can’t wait to see what the rest of this season has in store for us. I think at this level there’s still a lot of opportunity to learn and grow, but you can’t teach persistence and drive. I think this team has great positive energy on and off the ice and no one ever gives up.”I couldn’t have been more blessed to play in the NWHL and play with such a great team.” Sam concluded our chat with a message for the fans She said “ Lastly, I want to say a special thank you to all of the fans out there who show interest in the NWHL. None of us could be here living our dreams if it weren’t for the families and friends who have supported us throughout the years and the new fans who join us as we grow the game sport of women’s ice hockey!” One final note on Sam here, reaching back to her career again at Irondale High. Her soccer coach, in a sport she made significant contributions, but over a comparatively short career, summed Sam up this way. “Samantha is plain and simple a great athlete and an unbelievable person, I knew her shortly, but will respect her for a long time.” An iron will not only gets you points on the ice, but points in life as well. And points like that, earn rewards like respect. Cetacean Nation thanks our #32 Sam Donovan both for her efforts on the ice, and for sharing her thoughts and comments with the fans.