ST. MARYS — George Matthews spent 23 years teaching middle school students in Summerside, Prince Edward Island in eastern Canada, all the while broadcasting minor league, college and junior hockey. Often Matthews lent his voice to teams for little or no money. He spent hours driving to outposts of the hockey-crazed country, only to make that long drive back home so he could get up and teach the next morning.
Years later as the voice of the Columbus Blue Jackets, the National Hockey League franchise in the state’s capital, Matthews’ same passion for the sport comes out strongly and clearly with his raucous radio calls on Blue Jackets goals and saves.
“George is one of the best, not just in the NHL, but in all of sports,” said Russ Mollohan, Blue Jackets director of broadcasting, on Wednesday.
Matthews and Mollohan, along with local radio host and sports marketing director for Maverick Media in Lima Vince Koza, visited the St. Marys Rotary Club on Wednesday afternoon to talk about Ohio’s National Hockey League team that is suddenly surging late in the season.
The Blue Jackets, a franchise that has been mired in the basement of the Western Conference standings for much of its short history and is often overshadowed in the city of Columbus by even the most minute of Ohio State football news, are improbably in a playoff chase behind the work of Sergei Bobrovsky in the net.
“All of a sudden, we’ve gotten into the mix with top of the world goaltending,” Matthews said. “We’ve gotten a point in 17 of 19 games and last night had 17,000 people to watch the Blue Jackets beat the Sharks, 4-0.”
The Blue Jackets were just two points out of the eighth and final playoff spot as of Wednesday.
Matthews said the trade of Rick Nash in the offseason started the restructuring of the franchise. “It’s progressed faster than originally thought,” Matthews said.
When asked if the Blue Jackets would get the All-Star game again after Columbus’ turn at the game was cancelled due to labor strife, Matthews said the Blue Jackets expect to get the game in 2014 or 2015.
The duo of Matthews and Mollohan talked about the affordability and fun of attending Blue Jackets games, even for those who aren’t avid hockey fans.
“I think it’s the most exciting sport to watch live,” Matthews said. “On television, football is a whole other thing. But live, there’s nothing like hockey.”
Nationwide Arena, the home of the Blue Jackets, has become a focal point of growth in Ohio’s capital city. Other NHL teams are studying what the Blue Jackets and the city did with the Arena District to attract business and commerce in the downtown area.
“It might be the best location in the NHL with the hotels and restaurants and ballparks down there,” Matthews said. "The San Jose Sharks were in Columbus recently to study what Columbus has done."
Matthews' cohort, Mollohan, has Ohio ties and a reputation as a pioneer in sport talk radio.
Mollohan was with the original production team at WFAN, America’s first sport talk radio station in New York City.
“Russ is an innovator,” Matthews said. “He helped build a radio station in The Fan that every community in the country has tried to emulate.”
Mollohan talked about his Ohio roots and local ties to Auglaize County. Mollohan, a native of Doylestown, Ohio, had a daughter who worked and lived in Lima and a son-in-law who was the former sports editor at The Wapakoneta Daily News. Both now live in Columbus.
Koza, who hosts a sports talk radio show on 93.1 The Fan in Lima, said he is becoming a hockey fan after years of indifference to the sport. Koza said seeing the game live is eye-opening.