For over four decades his voice has filled the airwaves.
For many he is the quintessential voice for the game of hockey on Prince Edward Island and beyond.
From PEI to the bright lights of the NHL, George Matthews’ journey behind the mic has always been fuelled by an unwavering passion for the game and a relentless desire to entertain.
The PEI Play-by-Play Patriarch
Passionate, knowledgeable, charismatic, and electric. That’s George Matthews.
That’s the voice of hockey for PEI.
Matthews’ introduction to the broadcasting world could be classified as a baptism by fire, which had ultimately had been burning inside of the Island native his entire life. “I had always wanted to be a broadcaster, but in the Maritimes it’s pretty tough to make a full time living at it. Very few have been able to do that,” confessed Matthews.
“I invested a lot of time and money spent, but I didn’t want to make seventy-five dollars a week, so I have a couple of degrees,” the long time play by play man said jokingly.
Matthews studied and played hockey at the University of Prince Edward Island and graduated with a Bachelor of Arts and Education Degree.
“The fire was always in the belly to be a broadcaster.”
“There were no options in those days as far as broadcasting school was concerned,” admitted the current voice of the Charlottetown Islanders of the QMJHL.
Matthews would try his hand at fulfilling both passions, education and broadcasting. Nevertheless, like anything Matthews just needed an opportunity to get behind the mic and fulfill a dream.
Matthews owes that opportunity to technical difficulties.
George Matthews had always wanted to get behind the mic, but realized teaching was inevitably going to be his first profession.
It was just a given that Matthews would eventually end up behind the mic at some point, but we have a technical difficulty with an old barn on the Island to thank for his start in radio.
That introduction propelled him into a four-decade long journey all the way to hockey’s highest level.
“I was playing at University of Prince Edward Island at the time and our season had just ended. I had started to follow some the junior playoff games, and one night there was a technical problem with the old Charlottetown Forum.”
“There was a twenty minute delay so someone just grabbed me and said ‘George can you come on and talk about the UPEI Panthers.’”
“It didn’t go that bad,” Matthews remembers of his first experience in radio.
Matthews started teaching at the junior high level in Summerside a short time after his first on-air experience, but the tape of his debut circulated pretty fast.
Matthews recalls the organization at the time reaching out wanting him to be involved as an analyst.
“I told them right away that I didn’t want to do play-by-play.”
“I just can’t be saying SCORES!!!!!!!!!!!! and go back to the classroom the next day, having all the kids say Mr. Matthews, we heard you on the air last night, we heard you on the air.”
Matthews thought the role of colour analyst would be a better fit.
He couldn’t have been more wrong.
“I told them that I would do the colour, because it fits my teaching background, a little bit better,” Matthews said.
“I remember telling them that if I get on the play-by-play side of the things it would get crazy.”
It didn’t take too long for Matthews to slide into that role and as they say the rest is history.
“I eventually got there, and it did get crazy,” confessed Matthews of his first play-by-play experience.
Matthews’ journey in radio and education would become a balancing act, a balancing act that lasted twenty-three years.
“It just went on and on and on, so I guess this is year forty-three for me,” confessed a reflective Matthews.
Matthews would do close to sixty to seventy games a season during that period of time.
“It would be a kind of schedule where you would do three one week and four the next. It just went from there.”
From the AUAA, to the American Hockey League’s PEI Senators to the local Maritime Junior ‘A’ ranks, Matthews did them all.
Obviously in those days Matthews would also travel with the teams and have to worry about catching the ferry to teach the next day.
“I was living in Charlottetown at the time and do a broadcast somewhere on the mainland, catch the 2 am boat back get on Borden at 3:00 or 3:30, drive to Charlottetown get in at 4:00 or 4:15, sleep for two hours and get up and go teach junior high.”
“That’s a lot of energy,” Matthews said of teaching junior high and broadcasting at the time.
If you have ever heard George Matthews on the radio, now that’s a lot of energy!
From the classroom to the booth George Matthews was electric.
“I would go seventy days in a row and not think a thing about it,” admitted Matthews.
“If someone told me to do that, the feet would have been dug in and the hands would have been up in the air, I loved every second of it.”
“I wouldn’t do it differently, but man does it go quick when you are going like that.”
George Matthews was the new kid in town, but it didn’t take too long for him to meet two lifelong friends in Jim Clark and Doug MacLean.
“It was Grade 8, and George had just moved into town from O’Leary,” MacLean said of meeting his lifelong friend for the first time.
“George moved into a house that was sort of behind our house, so you could say we shared a backyard together.”
From Grade 8 all the way to university the trio was inseparable.
“We became great friends, from Grade 8 on with Jim Clark, who was also in the neighborhood.”
One could imagine three young kids from Summerside, dreaming of one day reaching the National Hockey League.
“We all grew up together, and from there on we played minor hockey all the way through together, George was goalie and we were on the same teams forever,” the former NHL Coach and General Manager said.
“We were just great friends throughout high school and college, and we were even roommates in college for awhile,” added MacLean.
Obviously Doug MacLean was confronted with a tremendous amount of pressure in Columbus to grow the game and the Blue Jackets brand in the first year of expansion.
They say the hockey world is a small one, but it was a no brainer for MacLean to hire two of his most trusted allies and friends to join him the NHL. MacLean named Clark as Asst. General Manager and it wouldn’t be no time before George Matthews phone would start ringing.
“It’s funny how it all happened,” MacLean said.
“Obviously we went our separate ways, we both became school teachers and I got into coaching, he was teaching junior high and broadcasting “Caps” (Summerside Western Capitals of the Maritime Junior A League) games which was a real passion for him.”
“I remember talking with him asking him ‘George, what would your dream job look like?’”
“When I got the job as President and General Manager in Columbus to start the franchise, I called George saying that your dream job would be a play-by-play guy in the NHL, how about coming to Columbus with me?”
“It was a fun thing to be able to do,” said MacLean.
“It’s more than just that, we are great friends and still are to this day, and talk on a regular basis, but to be able to have a lifelong friend come and do the radio was really kind of cool.”
MacLean received some early criticism regarding Matthews’ hiring, but he knew that would subside very quickly after people heard Matthews on the airwaves.
“I wasn’t the least bit concerned about that criticism, because at the same time that we are great friends, I knew how good he was.”
“George did an amazing job with the audience there with his style and became really popular.”
Matthews and MacLean spent eight years in Columbus together, with Matthews staying on with the Blue Jackets even after MacLean’s departure.
“Of all the things in my career, I think to be able to spend that time with George and Jim is special, but to have three guys that grew in the same neighborhood in Summerside, to be with the Blue Jackets from day one, is really cool,” MacLean said proudly.
MacLean truly admires Matthews’ passion for the game and the art of broadcasting.
“We have talked about that a lot lately, the passion he has for it,” confessed MacLean.
“He’s as passionate for the Islanders doing what he doing for them as he was for the Blue Jackets.”
“To think after retiring from a twelve year career in the NHL as a broadcaster, it’s just fun to see.”
“I give George shit all the time, because we live in Florida and I’m always after him to come down, but he can’t come to Florida because he has to do playoff games with the Islanders.”
“So his wife comes down, but George stays and does the games. We have great laughs about it.”
“I love when I phone him and we talk hockey, but before we talk NHL, he always has to talk Islanders, he’s into it and, for a retirement gig, it’s fun to watch and the passion he has for it,” MacLean said.
Whether it was in front of the class or on the air, George Matthews had one goal in mind, to entertain.
Game after game, season after season, Matthews did just that. The veteran play-by-play man is nearing rarefied air in the broadcast world, closing in on an amazing milestone.
“I’m getting close to three thousand games,” Matthews said proudly.
“I have to be some where around twenty eight hundred and counting right now, and I wouldn’t change a thing.”
It’s hard for Matthews not to get emotional when talking about his dream come true and his inspirational journey to the National Hockey League.
“I spent thirteen years in Columbus, actually twelve calling games with the lockout year in there as well, but boy does life go by quick when you are having fun.”
Matthews’ path to hockey’s highest level is the stuff that movies are made of.
From the grind of junior high to jet setting across North America broadcasting the world’s best league, Matthews was living out his hockey dream, but that doesn’t come with out sacrifice.
“My wife was never with me for the thirteen years while I was in Columbus,” explained Matthews.
At 60 years of age and with over a 1000 games under his belt in the show, Matthews decided to return home and give back to the broadcast world on the Island.
“I would have taken one game,” Matthews said of his NHL experience.
“I was ok to come home.”
“I always wanted to come back to the Maritimes and do a little dabbling in what I was doing and give back.”
Hockey in Ohio?
There’s hockey in Ohio? For the longest time that just didn’t seem possible.
We all know the story, we all lived the improbable and historic playoff run last year, but that run to their first playoff series victory was extra special for the Blue Jackets first ever play-by-play man.
It’s not hard to tell Columbus, Ohio is part of George Matthews’ soul when he speaks of his second home and his journey back to Nationwide Arena last season.
“Just to see the energy in the building, and the fans, I’ve been around hockey for most of my life now, but I had to step back into the main concourse because my ears were hurting, it was just so loud.”
Matthews old broadcast partner Bill Davidge, who just recently retired had to wear cotton batten in his ears as well during the Blue Jackets emotional and inspirational playoff run.
“There was just so much energy, so much excitement,” Matthews said proudly.
“Columbus is a great sports city, and to see that franchise to finally get to where it deserved to be, it was just terrific to see.”
“No fan base deserved a little bit of playoff success anymore than Blue Jackets fans.”
Matthews is planning a return to his second home for the twentieth anniversary of the franchise later this week.
“To be in on the ground floor of anything is a special experience and to see where it was, I mean we used to drive around the state and go to city after city people had no idea what the NHL was about,” confessed Matthews.
“We would have team vans, and people would say ‘oh the Columbus Blue Jackets, what’s that soccer?’”
Saying a lot has changed in Columbus with regards to the NHL and the growth of the game would be a massive understatement.
“Columbus is a bit of a ‘golden nugget,’” confessed Matthews.
“The arena district has grown up big time and its one of the best places to hang out around the NHL.”
“A lot of teams come through, LA, Anaheim, and Vancouver, because of the practice facility they can keep their same dressing room and practice for a few days and then move on to Chicago and Detroit.”
Matthews remembers his NHL debut behind the mic like it was yesterday.
“As I said, broadcasting one NHL game would have been enough, I would have been happy, but I still remember Doug MacLean coming into the booth during our first exhibition game in Pittsburgh.”
“I’ll never forget Doug saying ‘oh boys you are all ready and all set up, good luck, and a jester that Doug would, then he slammed his fist down on the desk and said boys don’t F$%& it up, this is the NHL it’s not the Maritimes anymore.”
“So that’s where we started, I’m looking at Lemieux and all the guys for Pittsburgh and just said if I only have a chance to do one NHL game, I’m ok.”
“Every other game was a bonus for me,” explained Matthews of his career in the NHL.
1040 games later, it was time for Matthews to step away from his dream.
The dream had ended, and a nightmare was just around the corner.
At 60 years of age after stepping away from the game at the NHL level, Matthews developed major heart problems and would need open-heart surgery.
Matthews had the procedure in a special cardiac unit at the Saint John Regional Hospital.
That entire ordeal really shook the Island, and the entire hockey world.
George Matthews has no regrets and wouldn’t change a thing for the world.
“I had a great time in Columbus, the fans were great the people I worked with were great, but at the same time you know realistically what you should do.”
“Family is important, I stretched my situation the best that I could, so it was time for me to pack it in, so it was time for me to come home and give back.”
“My training on PEI gave me the chance to stay in the NHL for thirteen years, I have no regrets and a lot of great memories.”
Matthews like many players, never took a day in the NHL for granted.
“I appreciated the opportunity and enjoyed every minute.”
“From a broadcast part and being in teaching you have to be bit of a entertainer to a successful teacher, so it’s the broadcaster responsibility to entertain the listener every night.”
Matthews has always embraced his uniqueness behind the mic.
“I’m not your normal broadcaster, I have my own little niche, it comes with energy and excitement.”
“I have a whole glossary of terms that people don’t use. I do that to entertain myself whether its ‘static in the attic’ or ‘holy shinny what a save’ that type of stuff, you don’t usually hear that, but it entertains me and I think I entertain the listener.”
Matthews raw enthusiasm, passion and love of broadcasting is uniquely authentic.
“It’s not planned, obviously it has to come off the top of your head, but I’m not just a dump in guy, I try to entertain people, that’s my responsibility. I think early on I learned that without advertisers there’s no broadcasts and advertising only comes in relation to the people that listening.”
“I felt a responsibility, that I have to give more than the score, I have to entertain, so that was my style all the way along.”
Passion in the classroom and passion in the booth, the man behind the mic continues to entertain the masses on Ocean 100 broadcasting the Charlottetown Islanders.
“I think if you are a good teacher you are a good salesman, because as I tell people, for twenty three years I was selling what no one wanted to buy.”
“I just being honest, I tried but for those two hundred that I was selling to every day, weren’t necessarily really happy with what I was trying to sell, from that point on into the broadcasting, but it worked for me.”
“In life I think success comes if you are passionate about what you do, I had a chance to teach, and a chance to broadcast and have been passionate about both. I thought teaching was the best job in the world, but eventually I found out there was one that I wanted to do more, but both of them were great.”
Right Hand Man
Cory Arsenault has ridden shotgun with George Matthews for a long long time.
Arsenault remembers his first broadcast with the legendary play-by-play man like it was yesterday.
“I’ll never forget my very first broadcast with George. It was with the Summerside Western Capitals and the game was in East Hants versus the Penguins.”
“I got on the bus sat across from George, he hauled out this binder and started going over different ways to describe the play.”
“He put the work in, I just twiddled my thumbs,” confessed Arsenault.
“1000 NHL broadcasts later, it’s come full circle. He still puts the work in and I’m still twiddling my thumbs,” Arsenault said laughing.
“George’s passion for the game and the love of bringing the broadcast into people’s homes remains the same.”
Arsenault and Matthews share a deep love for broadcasting and the game, and have developed great chemistry on and off air over years.
Arsenault like so many other hockey fans and friends of Matthews were terribly concerned during the long time broadcaster heart issues a few years back.
“Health wise, George has always been big advocate of healthy living. With his open heart surgery, it was just a reminder that you never know.”
“Here’s a man who takes care of himself, walks daily, eats healthy.”
The masses were shocked to hear of Matthews’ surgery, but through it all Arsenault is still amazed with his friend and colleagues professionalism and unwavering passion to entertain.
“It would be easy to hang up the headset and call it a day, but here he is getting on the bus and heading to trips to Quebec, why?, because the love of the game still burns.”
Passion has fuelled George Matthews’ journey in broadcasting for over four decades, and it still does.
‘Holy Shinny’, the man behind the mic is still as entertaining as ever, all you have to do is just tune in.