Jay Pandolfo's long professional hockey career could have been over. Instead, he finds himself living a childhood dream.
The 38-year-old Pandolfo grew up in Burlington, Mass. and was an All-America at Boston University. Now in his 18th pro season, Pandolfo is finally playing for the Boston Bruins.
"My whole life growing up watching these guys, I didn't know if I'd ever end up playing for them. It's obviously a dream come true," Pandolfo said. "And to play with them in this point in my career is kind of nice. I'm really enjoying the opportunity."
After playing 62 games with the New York Islanders last season on a one-year contract, Pandolfo found himself back on the open market in the offseason.
With the NHL lockout dragging into January, Pandolfo wondered if his playing days were done. A tryout with the Bruins landed him a one-year deal.
"If there wasn't a season, that might have been the end of my career. I kept skating and hoping something was going to happen," he said. "Getting the opportunity here ended up working out. To be a part of the organization is great."
Pandolfo hoped that the condensed schedule brought on by the delayed start to the season would mean a veteran player like himself would be needed.
"I figured with the short schedule there might be a chance where teams are looking to add some depth and that's what I think a lot of teams tried to do," Pandolfo said. "You don't know what types of injuries guys are going to go through. The more depth a team has, it will help."
Pandolfo saw his first game action in a Bruins sweater a week ago in a win at Winnipeg. Milan Lucic flew home to attend to a family matter and that opened the door for Pandolfo.
"It was exciting. I was glad to get the chance. I didn't know if I was going to play on the road trip or not. It was fun to get in there and fun to get a win," he said. "(I was nervous) a little bit. I don't think you'd be normal if you're not. I hadn't played in 10 months. Playing for the team you grew up watching gets you a little more excited. After you get a shift or two in there you kind of feel more comfortable."
Pandolfo has fit in well in the locker room.
"He's been great so far. He's definitely brought a good presence here around the room," Lucic said. "He's a real friendly guy, too. I'm happy to see him here and a part of the Boston Bruins."
Pandolfo's experience, which includes 882 NHL games and two Stanley Cup rings with the New Jersey Devils, is also a valuable addition for the young players in the Boston locker room.
"To have him here has really helped out. He's got veteran experience and he's won a couple cups and played in the league for a real long time," said Bruins rookie Chris Bourque. "Having him around is good if you have any questions or trouble in any areas. He knows pretty much everything."
Pandolfo's lead-by-example approach is what other veterans hope the younger players take notice of.
"He knows the right ways of doing things and going about things," Lucic said. "With some young guys here in the room, watching how he is and how he takes care of himself and prepares himself is a good thing."
Bourque has an extra connection to Pandolfo, having grown up in the area while his dad Ray was with the Bruins.
"It's great. Especially for myself. That's somebody that, growing up I knew all about Jay, going to BU and being from the North Shore and all that," Bourque said. "He was somebody that I looked up to as a younger player."
As for Pandolfo himself, he just wants to contribute and enjoy what could be his final hurrah in the NHL on a team that has the pieces in place to make another Cup run.
"This team has quite a bit of leadership and they've won a Stanley Cup, so guys know what it takes to accomplish that," Pandolfo said. "So I'll just try to fit in and if I can help out in any way, that's what I'll do." Ian Clark covers pro hockey for the New Hampshire Union Leader and Sunday News. His email is firstname.lastname@example.org.