Davidge Keeps Promoting Hockey In Ohio

Forty years ago, Bill Davidge was finishing up his freshman season of hockey at Ohio State. Little did he know that decades down the road he'd still be in Ohio, serving as one of the leading voices for the sport of hockey in the Buckeye State. BSB looks at the life and career of the OSU alum as he's helped build the sport throughout the state of Ohio.

When Bill Davidge was looking at playing college hockey in the 1970s, his choices essentially came down to two options.

A standout in the classroom growing up in Dunnville, Ontario, Davidge at first signed to play with the University of Pennsylvania when it still sponsored varsity hockey.

But when Ohio State coach Gerald Walford saw Davidge and some teammates with the Welland Sabres play in the old Detroit Olympia against the Howe brothers, an offer to play in Columbus was extended.

"The joke is he could have gone to the Wharton School for Business, but instead he came to Ohio State and majored in physical education because his goal when he was growing up was he wanted to be the gym teacher at his local high school," Davidge's son, Rob, said.

"Probably the most high-profile job in Dunnville is being the gym teacher at the local high school. It's a very blue-collar, simple town, definitely lower-middle class, factory workers. Just the fact that my dad had those types of aspirations – most of us would be like, ‘Why wouldn't you go to Wharton and major in business?' "

But all these years later, and after four decades in the Buckeye State, it seems clear that's Davidge's choice has worked out. After graduating from Ohio State in 1977 with a degree in education, he jumped at the chance to go to graduate school at Miami University in Oxford. There, he got his master's degree and helped get the Redskins' fledgling program off the ground.

But his breakthrough into the public consciousness came when Columbus was awarded an NHL franchise that began play in 2000-01. Through his longtime connections with the Blue Jackets' first president, Doug MacLean, Davidge was hired as the radio analyst for the franchise. He has since moved to the television side, where he still serves as one of the leading voices of hockey in the state of Ohio.

"The minute that he stepped behind the mic with the Columbus Blue Jackets was just another phase of him helping to develop and explain the game throughout the state," his longtime radio partner, George Matthews, told BSB. "He was already on the front page of the hockey people in Ohio. Now he was teaching the next chapter of that book to the casual hockey fan.

"He could wake up at 3 o'clock in the morning and start talking hockey. He's a tremendous ambassador of the team and the state."

From his beginnings as an Ohio State player to his platform now with a franchise at the top level, Davidge has been at the very front of the explosion of hockey in the Buckeye State. He never quite made it back to Dunnville, but it's clear Davidge doesn't mind after spending a life in the game he loves – all thanks to his move to Columbus.

"Once a Buckeye, always a Buckeye," he told BSB. "I've made two moves in my life – Dunnville to Ohio State and Ohio State to Miami. I feel fortunate that I didn't have to chase it. I didn't have to chase the dream."

Becoming A Buckeye
As would be a constant in his life, Davidge arrived at Ohio State for his freshman season of 1973-74 on the ground floor of a massive building project.

OSU's varsity program had begun play just 10 years earlier, and though the Buckeyes won the first-ever Central Collegiate Hockey Association title in 1971-72, the team broke free of the league to become an independent during Davidge's freshman campaign.

"They had just won the CCHA and they were going to be an independent team and get a chance to travel around the country," Davidge said. "We played Boston University and Denver and all the top teams that year in '73-74, so I came in knowing that you were going to be a part of building something."

Unfortunately, the building project didn't quite get off the ground during Davidge's time as a Buckeye. The team was right around .500 through his entire career, and Walford left the program after his sophomore season, leaving the head coaching job to one of the stars of the '72 team, Jerry Welsh.

Davidge made a quick friendship with his fellow Ontario native and served as the team captain his senior season of 1976-77. He concluded his four-year career at Ohio State with 45 goals, 56 assists and 141 penalty minutes in 114 games playing mostly center.

"I had a chance to flourish under (Welsh) when I was healthy," Davidge said. "I was recruited as an offensive defenseman, and half of my freshman year I played as a defenseman. I was a puck mover. It was the Bobby Orr era. I could move the puck, but my game was I could skate. I could outskate anybody, no matter who it was. I could fly.

"I also thought I was 6-foot-2. I tried to run guys over, and that's why today I've had 17 surgeries. I beat myself up is what I did, but that's how you played the game back then. It was the Broad Street Bullies (era)."

It didn't help that Ohio State played its games in the old OSU Ice Rink, which was 15 feet shorter than standard, leading to more collisions and a higher level of physicality. By the time his Buckeye career was over, Davidge's body simply wasn't ready to make a run at the professional level.

"I had visions of going and playing in Europe and play there, but I had three severe concussions my last two years, and that put a kibosh on that," he said. "That's when I went to Miami. I went to grad school, and they had just finished the rink. We had a club team and convinced the administration there to go to varsity."

The Next Step
Davidge quickly carved out a life in Oxford after his move, especially when his wife, Leann, whom he met when she was a standout tennis player at Ohio State, became the head women's tennis coach for Miami in 1979.

While working on his master's degree his first year, he picked up a job as the assistant hockey coach as well as teaching in the physical education department. With Miami having finished a new ice arena in 1976, Davidge and head coach Steve Cady convinced the school's administration to move the sport up to the varsity level for the 1978-79 season.

But perhaps one of his biggest contributions was to start the Miami University Hockey School in 1977 with Cady and CCHA co-founder/former Bowling Green coach Jack Vivian. Buoyed by the success of the 1980 Olympic hockey team, the hockey school and the sport exploded, as did Davidge's efforts to help grow the sport across the state and Midwest.

"What we did at Miami is we had the largest hockey school of anybody in the country," Davidge said. "We had anywhere between nine and 12 weeks of summer hockey school. We had coaches' clinics. We promoted. We did clinics all around the state from Toledo to Brooklyn Park in Cleveland to Cincinnati. You name it, we were all over educating. We've worked with some of the best in the business in promoting the game around the state."

Given Davidge's degrees as a teacher, Cady was happy to have him along for the ride.

"He's one of the best teachers that I've ever seen," Cady said. "He was able to break a skill down, explain the skill. He was a very, very talented athlete at Ohio State, and a lot of guys that are real talented from a skills standpoint struggle to teach it because it just comes natural to them.

"Bill was not that way at all. He knew how to break the components of the skill down and then articulate that to whatever age that he was working with in a way that made it easy for the folks to comprehend and learn."

Davidge settled in as an assistant beside Cady, but his life changed forever Jan. 27, 1985, when Leann passed away from injuries suffered in a car accident at the age of 28, shortly after the birth of Rob.

He soldiered on and became Miami's head coach for the 1985-86 season when Cady moved into an administrative role, but handcuffed by scholarship restrictions brought on by funding issues, the Redskins had trouble competing. In four seasons at the helm, Davidge – who still taught part-time at the school – put together a 39-111-3 record.

Something eventually had to give, so Davidge retired to spend more time with his family. His time in hockey was far from over, though, as he served as a part-time scout with NHL squads in Detroit and Florida, taught both at Miami and at hockey clinics, and picked up a few side jobs working as a broadcaster for Miami games and for the Cincinnati Cyclones of the old International Hockey League.

Little did he know the latter job would lead to big things farther down the road.

Jackets Time
When the Blue Jackets were formed, they needed personnel, so MacLean hired Davidge in the year before the team hit the ice to work as a scout and to get out in the Columbus community putting on clinics.

But MacLean had bigger things in mind as the team neared its debut.

"When I came here, Doug had a plan, and he wanted me to be a part of the radio with George," Davidge said. "First of all, the vision was for me to share it with (former NHL goalie) Rick Wamsley. Once George and I got on the air, Doug MacLean just came in and said, ‘There's no way you guys aren't going to be together. Wammer, I have other things for him to do.' He knew that George and I had passion."

That passion was obvious to anyone who ever listened to Davidge and Matthews call a game together. The two affable veterans of the sport played off one another perfectly and quickly became a beloved duo in Columbus.

A firecracker of a broadcaster known for his enthusiastic calls, rapid-fire delivery and rhyming exclamations, Matthews was hired as the play-by-play man after working for years in the junior and minor leagues. But much like Davidge, he had a background as a teacher in his home Canadian province of Prince Edward Island, and the two went into each broadcast with a similar perspective.

"He, like myself, always believed that if you're not entertaining and informative, no matter what the score, they can tune you out at any time," Matthews said. "We always took the approach that you're trying to sell the game and you're trying to sell the game that night in a good way, and you're trying to sell the team.

"In those early years where people were not as fully aware of the sport as they are now in Columbus, with both of us coming from teaching backgrounds, we understood that it was always a teaching process and a selling process every waking minute of the day."

Davidge and Matthews worked together until the 2011-12 season when the two split up, with Davidge moving into the Fox Sports Ohio television booth that campaign. While he harbored hopes of returning to coaching at some point – even nearly taking a job as an assistant coach at Louisville in the Panthers' organization – his home is now on the air.

"If you can't play the game, then coaching is the next best thing, but once I got behind the microphone, I enjoyed what I was doing," he said. "The pressure was off. I could raise my son, I wasn't on the road like a lot of different things. I was able to do what I wanted to do, and it was great."

The role has allowed him to continue to educate fans all across the state when it comes to the game while also making appearances in the community (he played in 31 charity golf outings a year ago to help spread the word about the team).

Coming to Columbus two seasons ago to work in the studio with FSO, Dan Kamal formed a quick bond with Davidge. After having served as the voice of the NHL's Atlanta Thrashers during the entirety of that franchise's existence from 1999-2011, Kamal arrived in Columbus knowing Davidge's reputation around the league but still impressed by his dedication to the game and its development.

"I think deep down at the core, he's a teacher," Kamal said. "He knows the game so well, he knows how to play it right. Thankfully for Ohio kids at all levels, they've been able to be the recipients of that kind of knowledge and passion. To me, that's one of his greatest legacies is that he's helped grow the game so much in his time here."

Mr. Ohio
That legacy is obvious when looking at the hockey community in the central Ohio area. Columbus boasts one of the largest rec leagues in the nation, and the Ohio AAA Blue Jackets took home the prestigious Quebec City PeeWee Tournament championship this February. In mid-March, the AAA program also won the Under-16 Tier 1 mid-am district championship.

For someone like Rob Davidge, who moved to Culver Academy in Indiana to play hockey during his teenage years, that progress is hard to believe.

"It was just amazing to me and my dad because we were like, look at how much hockey has grown here just since I went to high school, and I'm only 30," Rob said. "It was pretty special to see."

In addition, Cady said the Miami hockey school has seen interest from Ohio prospects explode throughout its history after serving mostly out-of-state players during its early years. Ohio produces a number of college hockey players each year, including Dublin, Ohio, native Sean Kuraly, who plays at Miami and is the son of one of Davidge's former players, all-time MU leading scorer Rick Kuraly.

"You know you're getting old when you see the kids playing and wearing the same number as the old man had," Davidge joked. "It's been rewarding to be able to see the success now. Here in Columbus to watch the AAA midget teams and what they're able to accomplish and the young kids like the Kuralys and the Trent Vogelhubers going through, that's exciting."

While both of those players have gone to Miami, Davidge still stays connected to the Ohio State program and head coach Steve Rohlik. But perhaps his most tangible connection to his alma mater comes at the Scholar-Athlete Dinner each year that Davidge emcees.

At the event, the family awards the Leann Grimes-Davidge Award and postgraduate scholarship each year to a deserving female athlete who reflects Grimes-Davidge's qualities of athletic performance, scholarship, character, campus or community involvement and leadership.

Davidge and his son are active with the awarding of the scholarship, interviewing each prospective athlete each year before coming up with a winner.

"It's very exciting because Leann's family were all Buckeyes," Bill said, pointing out that her father, Robert, still is tied for having the most touchdown catches in one game at OSU, snagging four vs. Washington State in 1952. "It's very nice to be able to come back and be part of that. We feel very fortunate to keep the Buckeye pride going."

Adding up the time Davidge has spent spreading the game in four decades at the youth, college and professional levels, his impact on how hockey has grown in the Buckeye State has been nearly immeasurable.

You could even say that the player who grew up playing against the Howe brothers now has a title similar to the one possessed by another silver-haired legend, Gordie Howe.

"I think that's a very legitimate title, Mr. Hockey in Ohio," Kamal said. "In Atlanta, another nontraditional hockey city, we used to talk about going out and preaching the gospel of hockey. I think Billy has been and continues to be the leading gospel preacher here in Ohio. He's been a huge part of the equation here."

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