Bartkowski in the booth

Two sportscasters on a network set.
Lebo native Matt Bartkowski, right, with Penguins color analyst Jay Caufield. Bartkowski retired from pro hockey after last season, and is beginning a career in the broadcast booth. Photo: Joe Sargent / Pittsburgh Penquins

Matt Bartkowski, TV personality. Perhaps you have seen the Mt. Lebanon native on Pittsburgh Penguins broadcasts this season, offering his insights on the team and hockey in general.

Well, a year ago he might have laughed if you told him that’s what he would be doing.

“It was just out of the blue, out of nowhere,” said Bartkowski, 35, who retired from professional hockey after last season.

This season, the Penguins took ownership of their local cable broadcasting outlet, renaming it SportsNet Pittsburgh and bringing in NESN–the Boston outlet that is under the umbrella of Fenway Sports Group, which owns the Penguins–to manage it.

They expanded their studio presence, and Bartkowski is part of a rotation of four who serve as the third member of the studio crew for pregame, intermission and postgame analysis. The others in the rotation are former Penguin players Colby Armstrong, Mike Rupp and Bryan Trottier.

They all work with long-time studio analyst Jay Caufield, also a former Penguins player, and either Dan Potash or Hailey Hunter as host.

After playing in 256 NHL games as a defenseman with four teams, notching eight goals, 40 assists, plus 20 playoff games, Bartkowski attended preseason Penguins training camp in 2021 on a tryout basis but did not get signed. He played two more seasons in the top minor league, the American Hockey League.

Bartkowski moved back to the Pittsburgh area after retiring as a player and became a coach for the 15-year-olds program at Alpha Ice in Harmarville. Then he got a phone call that led to this second job.

“I didn’t think about it at all,” he said of broadcasting. “It fell in my lap. Colby Armstrong’s wife, Mel, gave me a call and said they were looking for people to do this, and she threw my name out there.”

Bartkowski became a rookie again. His coaches include broadcast executives David Racchini, director of production and operations, and Fred Rihn, coordinating producer.

He also talked to others for tips, including Armstrong, Caufield and longtime Penguins broadcaster Paul Steigerwald, a former Lebo resident. “I watched the broadcasts leading up to my first, I guess, TV experience. I just watched and learned,” Bartkowski.

At first, he was a little overwhelmed.

“I told them when I was going into it, ‘Listen, I have no idea what I’m doing here,’” Bartkowski said. “I’ve done TV interviews or radio interviews from the other side of it, but once you’re in the studio and there’s, like, five cameras around and you don’t know where to look…”

Initially, he instinctively looked down while he talked. His advisors quickly corrected that. The next big tip was “don’t just reiterate what Jay said. Say your own things.”

And that was just the first game he worked. “By the second broadcast, they were just (saying minor things like) sit up straight,” Bartkowski said.

The actual analysis, though, is easy. It’s talking hockey, and specifically about the Penguins, the team he grew up rooting for.

“They knew that I played against and with a lot of the guys that I’d be talking about. That’s a big help. I can speak to that,” Bartkowski said. “And then the in-game stuff, the situational stuff, I can draw from the years I played, so that was pretty easy. A big part that they wanted me to hammer on was that I had just played and I’ve been around these guys.”

Bartkowski changed his look some. During his playing days, he often had what hockey players call flow.

“It’s just post-hockey,” he said. “I don’t think I can get away with walking around with long hair or a mustache or chops or some beard. Just trying to clean up a little bit.”

For something that cropped up without him pursuing it, broadcasting seems to fit Bartkowski.

“So far it’s been really great,” he said. “And then being able to watch the games and be more critical is rewarding as well. It feels like I’m more involved.

“Every time I do it, I enjoy it more and more as I get more comfortable. I’d like to keep doing it. I’ll keep going with it, see where it goes.”

Bartkowski grew up on Summer Place, where his parents still live. He helped Lebo win a state championship as a senior in 2006. He now lives in Robinson with his wife, Jessica, who is another Lebo graduate, and their children, Finley, Murphy and Avery. Even though Bartkowski works at the rink in Harmarville, he sticks with his roots–he started playing hockey when he was 6—when it comes to his family.

“The kids are doing learn-to-skate at the Mt. Lebanon rink, which is pretty cool,” he said. “That was pretty neat going back. We won the state title there in my senior year. A lot of good memories. It started with the Mt. Lebanon Hornets.

“Everything comes full circle.”