CHICAGO — His nephews don’t want his jersey. A couple of them have one or two, but that’s not what they really covet.
They all want Milan Lucic’s.
Jay Pandolfo says this with a laugh, knowing he’s not the sexiest name on the Bruins’ roster at the moment, his role that of a backup, an aging veteran hanging on in what is almost certainly his last year of hockey.
“I don’t blame them,” he added. “I would, too, I tell them. They don’t want my stick. They want a [Brad] Marchand stick, or a Tuukka Rask stick. I’m old news for these guys.”
But even if there won’t be many Pandolfo sweaters in the stands at TD Garden when the Stanley Cup Final heads to Boston, the 15-year veteran is content to drink in this last run.
It’s one he never expected.
“Growing up my whole life, rooting for the Bruins, then to finally get a chance to play for them at the end of my career? I mean, I couldn’t ask for a better story,” Pandolfo said. “And to get to the Stanley Cup Final and to be a part of it, it’s an awesome experience.
“I really didn’t even know if I was going to play hockey this year, with the whole lockout situation. To get an opportunity to be a part of it has been unreal.”
He spent his first 13 seasons in New Jersey, winning two Stanley Cups with the Devils, after attending Burlington (Mass.) High School and Boston University. And somewhere along the way, playing for the same team for so many years, he lost the dream of ever playing for his hometown club.
He thought he would finish his career with New Jersey. And, really, that would have been OK with him.
And then came the lockout, the uncertainty. He had already moved to the Boston area, had already settled into what will become his post-hockey home, and the Bruins were so very convenient. He had been skating with a few of the team’s players. He knew Claude Julien from the coach’s year in New Jersey. And yet, as Pandolfo put it, “I never really thought I’d have the opportunity to [play here]. Now that it’s happened, it’s kind of like icing on the cake.”
It hasn’t been perfect. Pandolfo hasn’t played since April 6, which likely factored in the decision to replace the injured Gregory Campbell with Kaspars Daugavins instead of Pandolfo. But Pandolfo is prepared, he said. He is in shape. His attitude is right.
“I knew the situation coming in, and I’m trying to stay ready in case something does happen and I’m needed,” Pandolfo said. “But just to be part of it, it’s been a lot of fun. I knew this was a good team, but now actually being part of it and being around all the time, I’m really impressed with the organization and a lot of these players.”
He could see the potential in the team during the regular season, even when it wasn’t playing up to expectations. But once the playoffs started, it felt different, especially after that Game 7 against Toronto.
And it has been, all the way to the Stanley Cup Final.
“I knew this team, just knowing the players and playing against them, I knew they had what it takes to get here,” Pandolfo said. “But still, saying that, it’s still that hard to get here. You need certain things to happen the right way, you need to stay healthy, and this team has done that.”
His family is full of Bruins fans, those nephews latching on, as Pandolfo’s career winds down and his minutes have decreased.
“They’re really into it,” he said. “They really love the Bruins. It’s pretty cool to see that. It’s fun.”
He has thought about lifting the Cup for the Bruins, for the team he cheered for as a child. But not too much. He doesn’t want to ruin the experience. He doesn’t want to get too far ahead, with games left to be played.
Pandolfo wants to appreciate the moments. These, after all, are likely the final moments of his career.
“This is probably it,” Pandolfo said. “Especially being from here and my family is settled here now, I don’t know if I could really get a better experience after this. I’m 38, so to finish like this is something I never thought would happen. It would be a great way to go out.”Amalie Benjamin can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow her on Twitter @amaliebenjamin.