Ryder Donovan dreaded the call he had to make to Tony Granato in 2017, telling him that he had made a nonbinding oral commitment to play hockey at North Dakota.
He was thrilled to deliver the message that he did last week to the University of Wisconsin coach.
Donovan, a highly rated NHL draft prospect from Duluth, Minnesota, committed to the Badgers last week and made it official on Monday, signing a National Letter of Intent to join the team next season.
The center backed out of his original commitment to North Dakota last fall, saying it wasn't where his heart was. He knew where he wanted to end up after a series of talks with Granato, who made a favorable impression a few years ago.
Donovan attended Granato's hockey camp at UW in the summer of 2016 and developed a relationship with the coach and his brother, Don, who was then an associate head coach for the Badgers.
"Their effort and their interest in me and their belief in me — and I go back to when I was 14 years old — that really sparked my hockey career and who I am now," Donovan said Monday night. "That meant so much to me."
Donovan, 18, was ranked 46th among skaters in North American leagues for the 2019 draft by NHL Central Scouting in January.
He joins forwards Alex Turcotte (fifth in the midterm rankings), Cole Caufield (15th), Owen Lindmark (65th) and Dylan Holloway (projected as a first-round pick in 2020) and defenseman Mike Vorlicky in the 2019-20 incoming class.
"That's exciting to think about the talent coming in," Donovan said.
With Madison native Ty Pelton-Byce becoming eligible next season after transferring from Harvard, the Badgers have six forwards joining a group of 10 who can return to the team. It's unclear whether UW will start next season with 16 forwards — it has 14 this season — or pare down its roster.
Donovan had 62 points in 31 games last season for Minnesota high school runner-up Duluth East. He has 37 points — 12 goals and 25 assists — in 23 games entering the playoffs this season.
Listed at 6-foot-3 and 184 pounds by Central Scouting, Donovan has been lauded for his skating and play-making ability. He played for the U.S. at the Hlinka Gretzky Cup in 2017 and was chosen for the 2018 USA Hockey All-American Prospects Game.
Granato isn't allowed to comment publicly on recruits until the National Letter of Intent has been processed.
But Donovan said that when he called Granato almost two years ago to tell him that he had chosen North Dakota, the coach wished him well and made a prediction: "I'm going to coach you someday."
He may have meant at a higher level of hockey, but it came true anyway.
"They just became my biggest role models in the game, mentors," Donovan said of Tony and Don Granato. "So I've known them for a long time now, it feels like. They're like the coolest people I know in hockey, especially Tony now."