COLUMBUS, Ohio – Simply put: the timing was right for George Matthews.
One of the most recognizable faces and voices in Blue Jackets history made the decision to move on to the next chapter of his life today, officially stepping away as the team’s radio voice after 12 seasons.
Matthews will relinquish full-time radio play-by-play duties with the team, but plans to call a limited number of Blue Jackets games during the 2013-14 season and will take part in future team initiatives.
Matthews called the 1,000th game of his NHL career this season when the Blue Jackets played the Phoenix Coyotes on Feb. 16 at Jobing.com Arena – a deserving milestone for a man who has enjoyed a remarkable career that began years ago as a part-time broadcaster on Prince Edward Island.
“This has been a very difficult decision, but one I have been contemplating for some time and one that is in the best interest of my family and me,” Matthews said in a statement issued by the team. “I want to thank the McConnell family and Doug MacLean for giving me the opportunity to fulfill a lifelong dream of calling games in the NHL, as well as all of the players, coaches and staff I have worked with over the years and the great Blue Jackets fans who have made this a truly memorable part of my life.”
A schoolteacher turned broadcaster of 37 years, Matthews' career began in maritime Canada calling games for little to no pay, eventually landing a job with the Prince Edward Island Senators of the AHL. His longtime friend and former Blue Jackets president/GM Doug MacLean gave him his first opportunity at an NHL job in 1998, and as the cliche goes, the rest was history.
The Blue Jackets have worked hard to make goaltending a position of depth in the organization, and this morning, they solidified what they hope is another piece of their future.
Anton Forsberg officially inked his first entry-level contract with Columbus this morning, a three-year deal that gives him options when it comes to continuing his professional development. The 20-year-old native of Harnosand, Sweden, a small town on Sweden's east coast, spent the 2012-13 campaign with Sodertalje in HockeyAllsvenskan.
Blue Jackets assistant general manger Chris MacFarland confirmed this morning that Forsberg will attend the club's development camp later this summer.
Forsberg appeared in 33 games, recorded 24 wins and finished second in the league with a 2.04 goals-against average and .933 save percentage. The 6-foot-2, 176 lb. netminder was the Blue Jackets' sixth pick (188th overall) at the 2011 NHL Draft held at the Xcel Energy Center in St. Paul, Minn.
He joins a strong stable of young goalies in the organizational pipeline that includes Oscar Dansk, Joonas Korpisalo and Martin Ouellette - giving goaltending coach Ian Clark an impressive group of pupils in the coming years.
If this keeps up, Nick Foligno might have to give everyone a hug.
The EA Sports NHL 14 Cover Vote campaign of Blue Jackets goalie Sergei Bobrovsky is officially continuing to the final round, as EA announced this afternoon that Bobrovsky and Devils netminder Martin Brodeur will square off for all the marbles.
It was an air-tight finish and Bobrovsky earned a narrow victory over Islanders center John Tavares, who had a strong run in the 2013 cover vote as well. For the first time since John Vanbiesbrouck (who graced the cover of NHL 97), a goaltender will be featured on the cover of EA Sports' signature hockey title.
Bobrovsky's path to the cover vote final began with an opening-round win over Patrick Sharp of the Chicago Blackhawks, then a second-round victory against Taylor Hall of the Edmonton Oilers before facing Tavares - who was fresh off a "real life" first-round playoff loss to the Pittsburgh Penguins, who are slated to face the Boston Bruins in the Eastern Conference Final beginning later this week.
Blue Jackets fans have rallied around Bobrovsky since his arrival to Columbus this season, and after a tremendous debut year (21-11-6, 2.00 GAA and .932 save percentage), he is one of three finalists for the Vezina Trophy, awarded annually to the NHL's top goaltender.
While the New York Rangers weren't particularly thrilled with a second-round exit in this year's Stanley Cup playoffs, the Blue Jackets have to be pleased.
Last summer's trade of Rick Nash brought the Rangers' first-round pick in this NHL draft as part of a package that included Brandon Dubinsky, Artem Anisimov and Tim Erixon - all of whom made significant impacts in their first season with Columbus. Where that pick would fall in the draft order could only be determined when the Rangers were eliminated from the playoffs, and that occurred last night in Game 5 at TD Garden.
The Boston Bruins recorded a 3-1 win to knock out the Rangers in five games, a disappointing performance for a New York club that was tantalizingly close to the Stanley Cup Final a year ago. That means the Blue Jackets will pick no lower than No. 19 overall with the Rangers' selection, and with a possibility of moving up to the No. 18 spot if the Detroit Red Wings advance to the Western Conference Final.
They currently hold a 3-2 series lead over the Chicago Blackhawks, so the prospects of moving up one spot remain pretty good.
As it stands today, the Blue Jackets own picks No. 14 and No. 19 with the final pick - originally belonging to the Los Angeles Kings prior to the Jack Johnson deal - yet to be determined. If the Kings advance to the conference final with a win in either of their next two games vs. San Jose, the Blue Jackets will be picking at 27, 29 or 30 overall.
In his short time as general manager of the Blue Jackets, Jarmo Kekalainen has made it clear that he's open to all options when looking to improve his team.
There was a blockbuster deal at the NHL trading deadline, new contracts for the team's core young players and today, the club signed a solid stay-at-home defenseman from HIFK in the Finnish Elite League. Ilari Melart, 24, joins the Blue Jackets organization on a one-year entry level contract and provides a unique element among the team's group of defensemen.
Not known as a flashy guy by any means, Melart has made a name for himself as an even-keeled, sturdy player who plays a simple game and isn't afraid to throw his weight around. Checking in at 6-foot-3 and a whopping 227 lbs., it's fairly easy to see why opponents aren't fond of playing against him.
“We’re very pleased to be adding Ilari to our organization,” Blue Jackets GM Jarmo Kekalainen said in a statement issued by the team. “He’s coming off of a strong season in one of the top professional leagues in Europe and played will for Finland at the World Championships."
With four of the best teams in major junior hockey convening in Saskatoon, things were bound to get interesting at the MasterCard Memorial Cup.
For the second consecutive year (and the second time in tournament history) all four teams sport a 1-1 record through the first two games of head-to-head competition, ensuring that a tiebreaker will take place on Thursday night at the Credit Union Centre. Monday night contributed the latest entertaining twist of this Memorial Cup, as the Portland Winterhawks exploded for three straight goals to put away a furious comeback by the London Knights.
London, down 3-0 and with things looking bleak after a sweet goal by Portland's Ty Rattie, put its work boots on as you would expect Dale Hunter's team to do and made things really exciting in a hurry. Scott Harrington scored the 3-1 goal and it was followed by Bo Horvat making it a one-goal game late in the second period, setting up for a third period that won't soon be forgotten by those who follow junior hockey and the Memorial Cup.
Alex Broadhurst's tying goal in the early stages of the third period looked as if it would be a breaking point for the Winterhawks, but Portland's poise came to the fore.
The Winterhawks answered with three goals of their own - two of which, 23 seconds apart, came moments after the Knights tied the game. Derrick Pouliot and Chase De Leo did the permanent damage and made sure the Winterhawks would escape the first two games of the round robin with a split, but it didn't come easy with the game hanging in the balance.
The Syracuse Crunch still have not lost a game this postseason, but more importantly, the Springfield Falcons have yet to win a game in this conference semifinal series.
With a lot of ground to make up but requiring the focus to take things one game at a time, the Falcons entered last night's Game 3 at War Memorial Arena in a 2-0 series deficit but eager to get out to a fast start - and they did just that in the game's first five-plus minutes. Springfield carried the play early but the Crunch squelched any momentum for the visitors with a late first period goal from Richard Panik, one of many guys who has been strong for Syracuse in the series.
Panik had the eventual game-winner, Ondrej Palat recorded a three-point night and goaltender Cedrick Desjardins made 24 saves for his first shutout of the series, all part of a 3-0 win for the Crunch that has officially pushed the Falcons to the brink of elimination in these Calder Cup playoffs.
And last night's game was a bit of a reversal from the first two games of the series, in that their start felled them due to a lack of scoring rather than their opponents finding the back of the net. In Game 2, the Crunch scored twice in the first 1:15 of the game and in Game 1, Syracuse jumped out to a 4-1 lead after the first period. But that's where Game 3 was different; the Falcons had their chances in the opening stages of the game but could not beat Desjardins, and it really felt like the Crunch got some energy from weathering an early storm.
If there's one thing to help the Springfield Falcons tonight, it would be their situation: the margin for error has almost completely evaporated and though "must win" is tossed around like Oprah's favorite things, it's applicable here.
Facing a 2-0 series deficit in the Eastern Conference semifinals, the Falcons open a set of two (and potentially three, depending on the outcome) games this week at War Memorial Arena in Syracuse. In order to keep their great season going, the Falcons have to win this set of games and give themselves a chance with home ice advantage.
But before they can talk about specifics, they simply need to be the better team tonight in Game 3. The first two games of the series heavily favored the Crunch, who have several players left from the Norfolk Admirals' Calder Cup championship team a year ago. Syracuse has made plays off the rush while also neutralizing the Falcons' power play and their skill players - putting a lot of additional pressure on the defense and goaltending.
Syracuse, coming off a three-game sweep in round one, kept rolling in Game 1 of this series by jumping out to a 4-1 lead in the first period. What had been a rocking crowd inside the MassMutual Center was silenced very early, as the Falcons were under siege from the get-go and were uncharacteristically careless with the puck.
In the words of Springfield coach Brad Larsen, his club had a lot of people standing still in Game 1 and he wanted a much different result in Game 2.
Thus, it goes without saying that a better start is an absolute necessity for Springfield in Game 3.