"Bittersweet" isn't usually how one would describe the day that they got their dream job, but that's exactly how it went for Bob McElligott.
After more than two decades in the sports broadcasting business spent calling games in a handful of different sports in just as many cities, the western Pennsylvania native knew that hockey was his true passion and the game he enjoyed most. His work with the Syracuse Crunch - a former AHL affiliate of the Blue Jackets - earned him an opportunity in Columbus to work alongside George Matthews, a man who quickly became a dear friend and mentor.
When Matthews announced last week that he was stepping away from full-time radio duties after 13 years with the organization, McElligott heard the words he'd long wanted to hear, but they sounded a bit differently than he'd envisioned.
McElligott, now the radio play-by-play voice of the Blue Jackets, takes over a job that he knows well after years broadcasting sports and the experiences gained along the way.
"The key is that I'm familiar with it," McElligott told BlueJackets.com. "It's not anything new but just something that's been delayed a few years. It's one of those days where you finally get told what you wanted to hear, where you finally get the job you've been striving for…but yet you can't be completely happy about it because it's at the expense of your friend leaving a job that he loves dearly and is going to miss.
"It was weird for me...bittersweet, but a good day."
Where one man's NHL journey ends, another begins. The 43-year-old McElligott, who grew up listening to radio legend Mike Lange call Pittsburgh Penguins games, has had the luxury of studying different styles and approaches by broadcasters in different leagues and sports. In previous career stops, he earned a reputation for his passionate, heart-worn-on-the-sleeve calls that leave no grey area for fans.
Some of that was learned from watching Matthews, who came to be known for his clever catch phrases and one-liners that Blue Jackets fans had no trouble identifying with. But broadcasting tips aside, the most valuable thing McElligott learned from his departing radio partner has nothing to with their profession - instead, it's something he has reflected on often as he prepares for this significant change.
"Being a good person trumps all," McElligott said of Matthews. "Because whatever shortcomings George may have had in whatever he was doing in life, mistakes got overlooked because he's a good guy. He's a real person. The biggest thing I'll take away from him is to be yourself and be good to other people.
"He truly lives that way and sometimes to a fault - but there's a lot to be learned from that."
One other thing Matthews did, according to McElligott: he established a standard in Columbus, one that anyone who succeeds him in the radio booth expects to uphold. McElligott wants to do that but also bring his own style to the broadcast, and add his own personal touch to listeners who tune in for Blue Jackets hockey action from all over the map.
A big part of that is just being yourself, McElligott said, and cherishing every single day he has the job that he's always wanted.
"I'm a fan of the game, a fan of the team I'm broadcasting for and I've had people tell me before: 'as soon as I turned on the radio, I knew whether we were winning or losing just based on your voice,'" McElligott said. "I look at like I'm lucky enough to have this job, sitting in this chair and having the same feelings and passion that you have as a fan. George could make any game exciting, and that's something I'm going to strive to keep in place and present the game in an exciting fashion.
"If you're looking for a middle-of-the-road broadcast where I'm going to compliment the heck out of everyone on both teams, you're looking in the wrong place. I work for the Blue Jackets, I want them to succeed; the better it is for them, the better it is for all of us."