After an attention-grabbing summer left Ryder Donovan with a glut of college hockey options, the Duluth East junior-to-be wasted little time choosing his future team.
A slick-skating center with enticing size, Donovan made official recruiting visits to North Dakota, Minnesota and Minnesota Duluth earlier this month. The first trip all but sealed the deal.
"As soon as I stepped into the Ralph with my family, it was like, 'This is where I want to play my college hockey,' " Donovan said.
He pulled the trigger Wednesday, verbally committing to a North Dakota program he called the "pinnacle of college hockey."
Iconic Ralph Engelstad Arena was a big sell. So, too, was ex-Greyhound Trevor Olson, who will captain the Fighting Hawks this season. Olson lauded the coaching staff. That, combined with the Ralph and North Dakota's perennial status as a national title contender, were too tough to pass up.
Even for a lifelong UMD fan.
Besides the Bulldogs and Minnesota, Donovan had a host of other scholarship offers, including from Wisconsin, a school he visited in April. The 6-foot-3, 185-pounder made his decision sooner than later, not wanting to drag the process on and keep coaches guessing.
The earliest Donovan could arrive in Grand Forks is 2019.
As a sophomore - his third season on the East varsity - Donovan scored 11 goals and added 22 assists for a young squad that lost in double-overtime of the Section 7AA final to eventual Class AA state champ Grand Rapids. He had multiple offers to play elsewhere in 2017-18, including with Dubuque of the United States Hockey League or for the U.S. National Team Development Program's Under-18 team.
Donovan, though, knows what kind of firepower the Greyhounds will return. He's expected to center a top line featuring Garrett Worth and Ian Mageau. East, likely to be a preseason top-five in Class AA, will have quality depth and a terrific blue line.
"The biggest thing is he wants to play with his buddies, wants to play with the friends he grew up playing with," Greyhounds coach Mike Randolph said. "And he knows we're going to have a really good team, both this year and his senior year. I believe he's going to stay and finish high school."
Said Donovan, who was a part-time player as an eighth-grader when East streaked to a runner-up finish at the state tournament: "I wanted to stay home and try to win a state championship. That's the goal, to bring a state championship back to Duluth East."
Randolph said Fighting Hawks coach Brad Berry will get a player whose greatest asset is his skating. Beyond that, Randolph noted Donovan's size and range, as well as his continued push toward becoming a "200-foot player."
"What they're getting is a great player - not only on the ice, but he's an even better kid off the ice," Randolph said.
Donovan was selected earlier this summer to play for the U.S. at the Ivan Hlinka Memorial Tournament in the Czech Republic and Slovakia in August. Two of his teammates at that event will be Gavin Hain and Blake McLaughlin of Grand Rapids. Hain, one of Donovan's close friends, similarly has committed to North Dakota. As has another buddy, Moorhead's Ethan Frisch.
In Donovan's backyard, there is a classic outdoor rink, constructed by his father, replete with boards and lights and lined by towering pines. Consequently, he always has ice accessible in-season.
"One thing he did like is that at North Dakota you can get on the ice pretty much anytime," Randolph said. "He's going to live at that rink like all their players do. I think he liked that piece the most. There's not a whole lot to do in Grand Forks."
Throughout the recruiting process, Donovan believed he'd be best suited to stray from Duluth, no matter how intriguing the thought of wearing a UMD sweater might have been.
"I've been a Bulldog fan my whole life, but I think the best fit for me is just to kind of get away from the noise here - but not too far," he said.
By staying in the NCHC, he's assured of future homecomings.