When Matt Donovan made his National Hockey League debut with the New York Islanders last month, you betcha Minnesota State’s Chase Grant noticed.
Perhaps Grant wasn’t quite that Midwestern about it.
Donovan wasn’t just a player Grant once went up against a few times he was a freshman for the Mavericks and Donovan was a standout defenseman at Denver. No, he had something else that Grant knew only he and scant few others could truly appreciate.
His Oklahoma roots.
Donovan is the first Oklahoma native to play in the NHL. College hockey currently has just two players from the Sooner State, according to a chart compiled by the College Hockey News website: Grant and his MSU teammate Taylor Herndon.
“Me and Taylor are really proud of that,” Grant said.
While there has been minor-league hockey in Grant’s hometown of Oklahoma City for decades, it’s still the heart of college football country.
“I always had to go somewhere to get to the next level,” Grant said. “I wanted to play triple-A hockey and went to Texas. Then I wanted to play Junior A, and was lucky enough to play in the (United States Hockey League) in Fargo (N.D.).”
Some of his friends didn’t necessarily understand where he was going or why.
“If I was playing Division I football, they’d think it was cool; they’d know all about it,” said Grant, who claims to be a big University of Oklahoma football fan. “But some of them think hockey’s just a cool, fun hobby. They don’t see it’s competitive as it is. It’s definitely eye-opening for them.”
Even if they don't fully understand the sport of hockey, those folks should appreciate the way Grant plays the game.
He plays what his coaches like to call "a hard game," making an impact at both end of the ice as one of the Mavericks' better two-way forwards.
"Playing with an edge while staying out of the box and being real hard to play against," coach Mike Hastings said when asked to describe an ideal game for Grant. "Offensively, getting to the net and defensively, making the other team go through him. Playing a real fast game."
Grant's tough-nosed, aggressive style has gotten him into some penalty trouble in the past, but his game has matured, Hastings insisted, without losing its snarl.
Grant is in his fourth year at Minnesota State. After a solid rookie season in which he scored eight goals and amassed 20 points, he missed the majority of his second season with a hip injury that required surgery. As a redshirt sophomore a season ago, he had seven goals and 19 points. One of those goals was an overtime game-winner against Nebraska Omaha in the Western Collegiate Hockey Association playoffs, the first postseason game played in Mankato in a decade.
"I think," Hastings said, "knock on wood, you're going to see Chase Grant make a big impact on our team."
So far this season, he has a goal and an assist and 10 penalty minutes in six games. But he says there's more to his game than scoring. He's not going to wow anyone with a lot of fancy moves. With him, it's about battles along the boards, in the corners and around the net. If he and his line aren't scoring, ideally, they're drawing penalties and giving the Mavericks power-play opportunities.
"I try to be effective as a nuisance," Grant said. "If I'm not a pain in someone's side, I'm not doing my job out there."
Grant may be proud of his Oklahoma roots, but Minnesota State is a melting pot of hockey players. There are just five Minnesotans on the 26-player roster. There are representatives of three countries, as well as 11 U.S. states and four Canadian provinces.
"It's become a global game," Hastings said.