There aren’t a lot of regrets for Burlington hometown legend Jay Pandolfo, who is now officially retired from the NHL after 15 seasons, two Stanley Cups, 100 career goals, Selke Trophy consideration and 899 career games in the world’s best hockey league.
Though Pandolfo only made it into 18 games for the Bruins last season at age 38 coming out of the lockout, hanging on for the ride while the Black and Gold made it all the way to the Cup Final was a perfect way for the hardworking forward to end his playing career.
Pandolfo was noncommittal when asked by reporters about his career plans once things were over with the Bruins at the end of June, but told CSNNE.com earlier this week that he “was definitely done” playing.
“I was 100 percent satisfied. I knew it was time to call it a career. I didn’t even know it was coming, but to get the opportunity to play that last year with the Bruins was really a bonus,” said Pandolfo, who listed Burlington High coach Bob Conceison and BU legend Jack Parker as the two biggest influences on a remarkable hockey career that saw him rise from Middlesex League high school superstar to multiple Stanley Cup winner. “It was a nice way to go out, but I kind of knew all the time that was going to be it.
“It was definitely fun to be a part of it. It would have obviously been great to win a couple more games, but just to go through that, seeing up close how passionate the fans, and seeing how good the Bruins players really are was a great experience. I really respect the players on that team, and the way that coaching staff and management handles things. They’ve really turned it around in the last six or seven years, and all of the other teams in the league are looking around and trying to match what they do.”
The former Devils, Islanders and Bruins forward had an unmistakably solid career built on killing penalties, shutting down other team’s best players and contributing all the little things to winning hockey teams. There is little coincidence Pandolfo was a key contributor on two Stanley Cup winners in New Jersey, and also won an NCAA national championship with the Terriers during his time at Boston University.
Claude Julien coached Pandolfo in both New Jersey and Boston, and appreciated all of the understated details he brought to the table in both locations. When he called for Pandolfo, John Madden and Sergei Brylin to hop over the boards with the Devils, Julien was at ease knowing things would be taken care of defensively against the other team’s best players.
“I thought he was the most underrated as a player [when he was in New Jersey] as far as what he brought to our team,” said Julien. “Everybody would talk about John Madden killing penalties, but [Pandolfo] was Madden’s partner on the PK. There were a lot of times I saw him being ‘the guy’ on that penalty kill, and making it all work. If you want to be successful at that then you really need to take pride in your job, and that’s something Jay always did.
“He was such a smart player. His strength was always hockey sense. I know he had scoring skills and put up big offensive numbers in college, but then he came to the pro level and was a little bit like Guy Carbonneau for that matter. He modified his game and became a really good defensive-minded player that you knew was going to be reliable against top lines.”
The reliability and gritty intangibles in Pandolfo’s game was exactly why Julien pushed hard for the Bruins to sign him last season following a tryout in an abbreviated B’s training camp. Pandolfo had spent the entire lockout working out with Shawn Thornton, Adam McQuaid, Brad Marchand, Milan Lucic along with a host of other NHL players at BU’s Agganis Arena, and it was there the B’s core group could see how well he’d mesh with the established dressing room.
Julien’s one regret about Pandolfo’s time in Boston: that he couldn’t have found a way to get the winger in for one more game, so he could have reached the milestone of 900 games played in the NHL. Instead Pandolfo’s career ended with 899 regular season games plus another 131 postseason dates that put him well clear of 1,000 games in his NHL career.
“Pandolfo didn’t care so much about the stats. He was a player that just wanted to win,” said Julien. “The only regret I have is that I wasn’t able to get him his 900th game in the NHL. It was such a tough, tough decision as a coach because your emotions go one way, and your instincts as a coach take you another way. That’s the toughest decision I ever had to make with him.
“There was Pando the player, but he was even better as a person. He was very coachable, always polite and a good team guy. It’s really hard to find any faults with this guy. It’s why I pushed for him last year [with the Bruins] because I knew if anything bad happened to our team, we knew we could rely on him.”
Pandolfo had just returned this week from a trip down to Boca Raton area in Florida for Thanksgiving with his wife’s family when we caught up with him, and he’s started flirting with a few post-playing career things around hockey without fully jumping into anything. The defensive forward filled in for Bob Beers for a couple of games earlier this season as the color analyst along with excellent play-by-play man Dave Goucher on 98.5 the Sports Hub, and sounded remarkably natural while breaking down the game action on the air.
Given the endless, insatiable appetite in Boston for sports content on both the radio and television, Pandolfo could certainly pursue a career in the hockey media much like Bruins enforcer Shawn Thornton, who has very clearly been on a post-career broadcasting track in Boston for some time once he stops punching people for a living.
Pandolfo has always maintained his local roots, and has also helped out a bit at the rink he’s part owner of, Micro Ice Center, in North Andover with camps and clinics for the kind of youth players he once was coming up through the ranks in Burlington. That has allowed Pandolfo to do just enough to satisfy the puck urges that inevitably still hit him now that he’s no longer playing competitively.
Pandolfo wouldn’t rule out a potential move into coaching at some point down the line, but both media gigs and coaching opportunities didn’t sound like his main priority just a few months into retirement.
Instead the 39-year-old former Boston University standout sounded like a guy perfectly content to spend time with his wife and daughters after years of flights, buses and endless workouts, ice times and practices. Family time was finally a priority over the hockey life, and he seemed to be pretty okay with things calming down for just a little bit.
“I haven’t really decided what I’m going to do next. Right now it’s about spending time with the family,” said Pandolfo. “I thought it was going to be tougher than it was. I watch games all the time, and I’m not sitting here watching games and wishing that I was out there.
“I guess it was just the right time for me. You more miss being part of a dressing room and all that stuff. I definitely don’t miss all of the preparation that went into it. It’s kind of relaxing to be able to sit back, watch some hockey and really enjoy it. It’s nice to finally have that time to make plans on a weekend, and I have two young kids, so it’s really nice to be around them. Living that [NHL] lifestyle for a long time can be really hard on a family.”
The good thing for Pandolfo is that he’s living nearby in Winchester with his family, and plans on dropping by Ristuccia Arena and TD Garden on a semi-regular basis to check in with the team.
So Pandolfo will get the best of both worlds now that he’s moved on to the next phase in a hockey career this humble hockey writer senses might have another chapter or two somewhere down the line as a teacher of the game he loved so much. Pandolfo did a wonderful job as one of the guys carrying the torch as a local hockey product for the last 20 years, and should be the model player for so many young, talented hockey players still coming out of the Boston area.
BUFFALO CONTINUES ON WITH INTERESTED BENNING IN THE MIX
Jim Benning (Boston), Jason Botterill (Pittsburgh), Tim Murray (Ottawa) and Paul Fenton (Nashville) continue to be the most prominent remaining candidates for the vacant Buffalo GM job as Sabres President Pat Lafontaine continues the arduous search for Darcy Regier’s replacement. One name that was crossed off the list: Montreal front office member and former Florida Panthers GM Rick Dudley.
The Western New York native was considered a leading candidate for the gig, but was instead given a new deal last week to stay in Montreal as the assistant general manager to Marc Bergevin.
“I went to Montreal because of Marc Bergevin,” Dudley said. “I enjoy the people I work with. It’s fun. It’s a great gig. If you enjoy something a great deal, why change if you don’t have to?
“I’m having a ball in Montreal and I want to stay there. It’s been fun from day one. We’ve got a wonderful group of players, coaches, the entire staff. It was a situation I didn’t think I could walk away from.”
For what it’s worth, Benning voiced interest in the head hockey ops job with the Buffalo Sabres but also admitted he’s “perfectly comfortable continuing to do the work he’s been doing in Boston” for the last seven years. Benning has been with the Bruins for so long that there are no holdovers from his team with the Sabres prior to 2006, and it would be a major job to rebuild the organization from its current rubble.
STAMKOS EYEING EARLY FEBRUARY RETURN
TSN’s Darren Dreger tossed out a Feb. 6 potential return date Steven Stamkos has targeted in his comeback from a nasty looking broken leg suffered last month vs. the Bruins at TD Garden. He’s already walking on his own power without crutches, and actually went on the ice this week in sneakers and stood on a wooden plank for traction, while shooting pucks into a net that was about 20 feet in front of him. It sounds like Stamkos has more than a little Dustin Pedroia in him, and that’s clearly part of what makes him so special.
“I just wanted to go out and get a feel for the stick,” said Stamkos. “I miss it after a while. I feel good considering what’s happened and the timeframe it’s been. It’s encouraging.”
The injury has given Stamkos perspective and reinforced his love for the game of hockey, which was already pretty obvious to people that have watched how ardently the Tampa Bay superstar has worked to improve his game over the last few years. You can tell Stamkos is one of those players that just worships at the altar of hockey.
“As much as it hurts me to say this, you miss practicing and you miss skating and you miss those days where it’s a tough practice. When you don’t have an injury you don’t think about it that way,” said Stamkos. “Now that I’ve gone though this you definitely have a different outlook. You should just be happy and blessed you are out there being able to do what you love to do. It’s the old saying, ‘You don’t know what you have till it’s gone. I think I’ve gotten to that stage now. You have to remind yourself it’s going to be a long road. You just have to work hard and keep focused and do what you can.”
DAD’S TRIP THROUGH CALIFORNIA FOR THE FLAMES
The Calgary Flames went on the “Dad’s trip” through California last week that’s becoming increasingly popular in the NHL world over the last 10 years. Each player, as well as members of the coaching staff, has a father or father-figure in the stands watching the games – in this case against the Kings and Ducks. For a weekend, they also share hotel rooms with their sons, travel on the Flames' charter plane, and receive the same first-class treatment as their NHL-playing sons.
Calgary coach Bob Hartley, who lost his dad when he was an 18-year-old, brought longtime friend Jacques Morrisette who owned the Laval Titan when Hartley coached in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League. Former Bruins prospect Joe Colborne brought his dad along, and loved the experience as many other players around the NHL do when the team makes a reality.
“It's always fun,” said Colborne. “I'm lucky enough that I'm close enough that he can come see me play a lot. But it never gets old. You're thinking back on all the road trips that we took together when I was little. The dads liked to go out and have a good time when we were sleeping and getting ready for the game. I know my dad is pretty excited for it.”
The Bruins last did it back in 2006-07 during the “Dave Lewis Error” on a road swing through Florida, but apparently the dad/son “warm and fuzzy” trip is not part of the business program under Claude Julien.
QUOTE OF THE WEEK: “I want to be traded. We’ll see how it goes. Since day one, I didn’t get the chance here. I got traded here to be a top-six player but never got the chance, never played more than 15 minutes in here, and it’s time for me to move on.” –disgruntled Washington Capitals forward Martin Erat, saying what you sometimes hear off the record but very rarely out in the open.
TRADE SHOW: Here are a few players to look out for now that the NHL regular season schedule has hit December, and things may start happening a little more quickly now that teams have a good idea what they need to add.
*Dmitry Orlov and Martin Erat want out of Washington, but the Capitals are also looking for a top-four, left shot defenseman to add to their mix. The Bruins don’t have much of a need for Erat, and one has to wonder what Orlov did to get so entrenched in Washington coach Adam Oates’ dog house. Matt Bartkowski would nicely fit Washington’s needs if the Bruins were looking to deal the 25-year-old blueliner, who has been a spare defenseman in Boston when everyone is healthy.
But it would cost the Capitals quite a bit to acquire a good, young defenseman just starting to put together his considerable set of tools (skating speed, physical size and strength in the defensive zone) that still leave him with a high development ceiling that he’s beginning to reach at the NHL level.
*The Edmonton Oilers badly need a big, strong top-four shutdown defenseman to pair with Justin Schultz, and accomplish two things: start to at least think about playing a little bit of defense, and get Schultz into a D pairing where he can start to make some offensive plays on the rush. Schultz came into the NHL with a lot of fanfare as he had a handful of teams chasing him as a free agent out of the University of Wisconsin. Given the large number of available NHL-caliber stay-at-home defensemen the Bruins have on their roster, it could be interesting if these two teams began to discuss a trade centered on one of Edmonton’s prized young offensive forwards. Nail Yakupov continues to underwhelm the Oilers – zero goals during five-on-five play in 30 games, with four power play goals on his resume – and would be the most available name among Edmonton’s young, talented assets.
*The Bruins haven’t targeted any specific names quite yet, but it’s become pretty clear that they need to add some speed to their front line if they hope to skate with the best Western Conference teams in the land. Those speed players certainly come at a premium level cost, and the trick might just be finding somebody that will also dutifully carry out Claude Julien’s defensive game plan. The Bruins could also solve the problem with a call-up of the speedy Ryan Spooner to the NHL level, but they’d need to clear a spot in the lineup in order to make room for the offensively gifted 21-year-old center. That hasn’t happened to date, but it’s not out of the realm of possibility either.
*It’s been a bit of a challenging season for Weymouth native Charlie Coyle out in Minnesota, as he missed time earlier this season with a sprained knee and has been moved off his natural center to right wing with the Wild. The 21-year-old Coyle won the second-line center spot outright in training camp, but Mikael Granlund took over during Coyle’s injury, and the second line never looked back.
Coyle has played better at right wing than center over the balance of the last two years, and both Zach Parise and Mikko Koivu seem to operate just a little bit better when Coyle is at right wing as opposed to Jason Pominville.
That has led Minnesota coach Mike Yeo to keep Coyle as a top-line right wing, and fill a hole elsewhere now that Granlund is out with a head injury.
“I’ve got no problem putting him at center, but I think we have to try to give that line a chance to get back to the type of dominance they were having,” said Yeo. “Instead of breaking them up, let’s arm those guys with what they need to lead our group.”
*Before getting injured on a collision at the net, Ilya Bryzgalov suited up and stopped 33 shots for a shutout in his auspicious debut with the Edmonton Oilers. It was the first time an Oiler goalie got a shutout in his first start since Jussi Markkanen 12 years ago to the day in a 2-0 over Anaheim.
*A lot more empty seats at the Canadian Tire Centre in Ottawa this season after first letting hero Daniel Alfredsson leave to Detroit via free agency, and then opening the season in lukewarm fashion. Ottawa Senators owner Eugene Melnyk doesn’t sound concerned, but perhaps he should be given how rabid some of the other Canadian fan bases are in places like Toronto, Montreal, Vancouver and Calgary.
You don’t see empty seats in those barns.
“It’s kind of a funky start for us. We have a finicky fan base. You’ve got to live with it,” said Melnyk. “Ultimately when they see the team turn into its own character, then they have identification to themselves. I think a lot of that is going to start resonating amongst the fans ... I think you’re going to see a bump up in attendance. We’re fine.”
*Classy move by the Tampa Bay Lightning in Vinny Lecavalier’s first trip back to the Tampa Bay Times Forum as a member of the Philadelphia Flyers. The Lightning named Lecavalier the Community Hero for the Game, gave him an extended video tribute and donated $50,000 to the Vinny Lecavalier Foundation, and My Center Vinny waved to the crowd when he was recognized during the game.
Needless to say he was touched afterward, and said that Tampa would be always be his home no matter what happened with his Lightning contract.
"I was a little nervous before the game, stepping out, butterflies,” said Lecavalier. “But it was just being out there in warm-ups and seeing people with my jersey and with cards saying we miss you and all that, it really got me. It really meant a lot, so I’ve got nothing but great things to say about the fans and this organization.”