‘STU gave me my career’: One STU grad’s journey to the NHL

At the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, St. Thomas University graduate Matt Tidcombe received a message from the NHL, asking him to fill a spot on the communications staff for the Ottawa Senators. (Submitted: Matt Tidcombe)

When the American Hockey League suspended and eventually cancelled the 2019-20 season, Matt Tidcombe wasn’t sure when or where he’d be working.

The now 30-year-old was working as a digital media manager for the Belleville Senators, the Ottawa Senators’ AHL team. He’d been there for three seasons, writing stories on the team daily and creating content for social media before he found himself out of work.

“COVID hit while we were in Belleville and the AHL season got cancelled eventually. We got furloughed from Belleville in April and I was off for a couple of months,” said Tidcombe.

Tidcombe graduated from St. Thomas University in 2013, majoring in journalism and communications. The following year he attended Centennial College in Toronto for a one-year sports journalism program.

From there, Tidcombe interned with the Windsor Star, covering sports on both sides of the Detroit River. Not long after, he found a job with Rugby Canada in Victoria, British Columbia.

From 2015 to 2017, Tidcombe ran Rugby Canada’s social media accounts and followed the different national teams playing across the globe.

“I’d be getting up at 2 a.m. and then 5:15 a.m. and then 8 a.m. to cover three games over the course of a night,” said Tidcombe. “It’s funny when you have a 6 a.m. start and that’s a relief.”

Tidcombe left Rugby Canada in the summer of 2017 to go to Belleville, where he worked until last spring.

In July 2020, as the National Hockey League was in the midst of returning to play, Tidcombe received a message from his now-boss, asking him to fill a newly vacant spot on the communications staff for the Sens.

It was a stroke of luck, but one that didn’t come without countless hours of writing, interviewing and editing.

“At first it was just [getting] to the draft,” said Tidcombe. “We got to the draft and kept moving forward and it’s been great since.”

Tidcome hasn’t travelled with the team yet, although he is a part of the team’s bubble. That means long stays in Ottawa hotels and limited access at games but he makes the best of it. He and a small team he works with set up camp in a suite in the Canadian Tire Centre for the game.

“I stay rooted in my seat up in that suite and make sure I have everything I need, ranging from GIFs and video and imagery and the website … I put myself in there for a good four or five hours once the puck drops.”

On top of that, Tidcombe live tweets, updates Instagram stories and writes updates for senators.com.

Former Aquinian sports editor Matt Tidcombe interviews Belleville Senators centre, Logan Brown. (Submitted: Matt Tidcombe)

What may seem like too many responsibilities for one person in the midst of a fast-paced game of hockey is all in a night’s work for Tidcombe. He credits his time in Belleville for his success in his role.

“I’ve learned my own system for how to do it, I guess,” said Tidcombe. “What makes it really comfortable for me is I know a lot of these people … I already had good working relationships with a lot of [the hockey ops staff], I knew some of the coaching staff too, and obviously the players, they’ve all come from Belleville.”

Tidcombe also hasn’t forgotten where he came from. He remembers professors like Mark Tunney and Don Dickson having an impact on his time at STU.

“STU gave me my career at the end of the day,” said Tidcombe. “If I didn’t go to STU, I wouldn’t be where I am today, there’s no doubt about that in my mind.”

Beyond the classes, Tidcombe also recalls writing for The Aquinian and serving as its sports editor for two years. He had opportunities to cover STU and University of New Brunswick hockey and other sports.

“[Writing for The Aquinian] was the extra step I think which really helped me, being involved in that every week. Literally from the day I arrived on campus I went to the first meeting a day or two later.”

Tidcombe is currently holed up in an Ottawa hotel room. He writes for the Senators website during the day, sometimes putting out five or six articles in a day, ranging from game previews to short profiles of Senators players.

With the Senators playing 14 games in the month of February, Tidcombe won’t get much of a break. But he’s glad to be back at work, covering the best hockey players in the world almost every night. He said all he really does is get his COVID test, have a couple of cups of coffee and get to work. 

“I take a lot of pride in what I do,” said Tidcombe. “It is a lot of work, but I don’t think I’d have it any other way.”

“It couldn’t have worked out any better for me.”