The Jay Pandolfo Story: From Burlington to BU, the NHL and Back
By Gracie Davenport
Jay Pandolfo still remembers the first time he stepped on the ice.
“It was at the Burlington Ice Palace,” Pandolfo said. “I thought I would be able to skate. I basically ran out on the ice and obviously fell on my face. But I actually remember the day, so I certainly loved it.”
At the early age of five, the future BU Men’s Ice Hockey captain, then head coach, was getting a taste of his lifelong passion.
Hockey culture runs deep in New England, and few embody its heritage better than Pandolfo.
He would spend over 20 years in the National Hockey League (NHL), either playing or coaching. He ranks 12th among Massachusetts natives for most NHL games played (899).
Throughout his illustrious career, he always found a way to channel his birthplace beginnings back to his career.
Where It All Began
Pandolfo was born in Winchester, Massachusetts but grew up in the nearby town of Burlington. During his childhood, he played everything — basketball, baseball, soccer, and of course, ice hockey. It wasn’t until 16 years old that he solely focused on the hockey path.
While nobody on his father’s side played the sport, Pandolfo’s fascination stems from his mother’s family. She was born into a household of nine, and both of her brothers played hockey. Stepping back one generation, her father played with Northeastern University in the 1930s.
“He was actually a really good hockey player,” Pandolfo said about his grandfather. “He was big into it, and you just start skating and I basically fell in love with it right away.”
Playing for his high school team, the Burlington Red Devils, Pandolfo was a standout player. Over three seasons, he produced at a rate of 2.83 points per game to post 178 points (87g, 91a) in 63 games.
During this period, Pandolfo realized he could turn his talent into something more. The original objective was to just play in college.
“That was my goal really,” Pandolfo said. “I didn’t even think about playing in the National Hockey League at that point. I just was hoping I could play in college.”
The Final Decision
Growing up on the outskirts of Boston, Pandolfo often went to BU and Boston College games, including the annual Beanpot Tournament. Watching these premier hockey programs, he noticed how they increasingly churned out more professional players.
“Once I saw that, maybe you start thinking about [playing in the NHL] a little more,” Pandolfo said. “First, I just wanted to be able to play at BU and have some success.”
Pandolfo picking BU over BC meant going against his family ties. His older sister was still attending BC, and his father played football there. Nevertheless, he was destined to become a Terrier.
“I went on all of our recruit trips. I would go to a lot of the games at BC, at BU,” Pandolfo said. “For whatever reason, I just felt more comfortable at BU.”
Reflecting on the decision on a deeper level, Pandolfo points toward strength and conditioning coach Mike Boyle and Hall of Fame BU Head Coach Jack Parker. Boyle coached at BU for 15 seasons and has since worked for several professional teams.
“[Boyle] was a big part of what they were doing, and they were starting to produce a lot of NHL players,” Pandolfo said. “I just felt in my gut that BU was a better place for me.”
Tried and True Terrier
Once on the collegiate level, Pandolfo continued to flourish. He recorded 169 points (79g, 90a) in 136 games. Over four seasons in the Scarlet and White, Pandolfo won two Hockey East Championships, two Beanpot Championships and one National Championship in four Frozen Four appearances.
While the BU Athletic Hall of Famer scored at least a point per game in each of his four seasons, Pandolfo went out with a bang during his final year, but it was an uphill battle getting there.
During the season prior, Pandolfo’s hand was severely injured in the Beanpot. The injury kept him out of play for several weeks, but he recovered deep into BU’s postseason run. Fortunately for Pandolfo, he drew back into the lineup for the Frozen Four matchup en route to the Terriers’ fourth National Championship in 1995.
Looking ahead to his final season, Pandolfo’s future remained unclear.
“There was an outside chance I was going to sign and turn pro at that point, but I just didn’t think I was ready,” Pandolfo said. “Coming off an injury-filled season, I wanted to go back to my senior year and gain some confidence and find my game again.”
Pandolfo was named captain during his final year, and he notched a career-best 67 points (38g, 29a) over 40 games. This production earned him Hockey East Player of the Year. However, he does not think of it as a solo effort.
“I played with a lot of great players,” Pandolfo said. “Chris Drury and Mike Grier were my linemates for most of that year.”
Drury would go on to win the Hobey Baker Award in 1998 before spending 12 years in the NHL. Grier played 1,060 games across 14 seasons in the NHL. Both guys are now executives with NHL teams, with Drury serving as the President and General Manager of the New York Rangers, and Grier as the General Manager of the San Jose Sharks.
Looking back on his NCAA career, the accolades didn’t stick out most to Pandolfo. Instead, he cherishes the relationships he made along the way.
“In the National Hockey League, guys have families; it’s just different. Whereas, in college you’re together all the time,” Pandolfo said. “You really create a strong bond that lasts forever. Those are the best memories for me — as fun as it was to win Beanpots, win the National Championship — just those bonds you create with the players there.”
His favorite memory was not simply winning the 1995 National Championship, but specifically the bus ride back to Boston from Providence.
“Someone asked me the other day what was my best memory in college. For me, winning the national championship was part of it,” Pandolfo said. “[But] the memory of all the guys just being together alone on the bus, and how much fun we had on that bus ride, is a memory I’ll never forget.”
Welcome to The Show
Pandolfo’s collegiate play helped him transition to the next level. Taken 32nd overall in the 1993 NHL Entry Draft, he would go on to amass 899 regular season and 133 postseason NHL games. Over 13 seasons with the Devils, he was eventually named an alternate captain, was a Frank J. Selke trophy finalist for best defensive forward in 2006-07, and won two Stanley Cups (2000 and 2003).
Winning a Stanley Cup is no easy feat, and Pandolfo found himself on both sides of the “two-month grind.” He won his first Cup in 2000 against the Dallas Stars, collecting an assist in the final game.
The Devils made the Cup Finals the following season, but lost in Game 7 to the Colorado Avalanche.
“Losing in the Finals was probably harder than anything because you know how hard it is to get there,” Pandolfo said.
The team was able to redeem itself in 2003 against the Anaheim Ducks. The final round went seven games, and Pandolfo played a more significant role. Notching 12 postseason points (6g, 6a), including the Game 5 winner, he earned his second Cup in four seasons.
All in all, Pandolfo credits the team dynamic for the Devils’ success.
“We had teams that came together, and players on those teams understood their roles. That’s what it takes to win,” Pandolfo said. “I was fortunate to learn that from that organization.”
Two seasons later, Pandolfo got a head start on his eventual coaching career.
Even during his time in New Jersey, he found a way to return home. During the 2005 NHL Lockout, Pandolfo journeyed back to Burlington in search of ice time.
In the absence of regular training, he spoke with his former high school coach, Bob Concession, about skating with the team. From there, this evolved into Pandolfo becoming the assistant varsity coach for the season.
“Looking back, I enjoyed it,” Pandolfo said. “Maybe that was a part of where I am today, but [Concession] was really a huge influence on not just my hockey career, but coaching career, as well.”
Shipping Up to Boston
After spending over a decade in New Jersey, the Devils organization parted ways with Pandolfo in 2010. He played one season with the New York Islanders before finishing off his career with the Boston Bruins.
This final season came during the 2012-13 NHL lockout, where the first half of the season was canceled due to a labor dispute. Uncertainty loomed for Pandolfo as his career waned.
“I wasn’t sure I was going to continue to play,” he said. “I was still skating with some of the local players around here. There were a lot of Bruins players skating.”
Pandolfo credits then-Bruins head coach Claude Julien for ultimately getting him in the lineup.
“[Julien] was a big part of it. He talked to me a little bit about how it was going to be a strange season,” Pandolfo said. “[He thought] it would be nice to have some veterans around in case they needed players. He was huge in getting me to sign there.”
Just as each Devils player — part of the Cup-winning teams — knew their role, Pandolfo knew his role as an older presence.
Regardless of whether or not he was getting consistent playing time, this came as a full-circle moment for the hometown kid who grew up a Bruins fan.
“It was a great way to finish, getting a chance to play for an Original Six team, a team I grew up watching and being a huge fan of,” Pandolfo said. “It was amazing.”
The kid who idolized players such as Ray Bourque and Cam Neely was able to put on the B’s sweater as he rounded out his lengthy career.
Despite playing a different style from his idols, Pandolfo admired one thing about the two Hall of Famers: a clear work ethic.
“I don’t think my game was similar to either of them, but it was more how hard they played all the time,” Pandolfo said.
Catch You on the Flip Side
Pandolfo’s self-motivated work ethic can be seen through his commitment to the game. Following his retirement, he kept in close contact with the Bruins organization. One year after playing his final game, he returned to the Bruins. This time, behind the bench.
From 2014-16, the freshly retired player started in player development. He worked on both sides — management and coaching.
“I gravitated more towards the coaching side of things,” Pandolfo said. “To me, coaching is the closest thing to playing because you’re still in it.”
Thereafter, he was quickly promoted to assistant coach in 2016.
“I enjoyed being on the ice with the players. It’s the closest thing to the competition I found,” Pandolfo said. “That was a big reason I actually ended up sticking with coaching because I really enjoyed it.”
It Had to B-U
Pandolfo would hold the assistant coach role for the Bruins until the summer of 2021, when he decided to come back to BU, serving as the associate head coach.
“It wasn’t an easy decision because I really liked where I was at with the Bruins,” Pandolfo said. “But I thought if I was ever going to get back into [the college game], the timing was good.”
Outside of the love for his alma mater, the main reason Pandolfo returned to Comm. Ave surrounded his family.
“I think in college coaching, your family is more involved than would be at the National Hockey League level, so that was a big part of it. I remember back playing for coach Parker how much his family was around,” Pandolfo said. “It was an opportunity for me to have my family around more often. Even though it’s still a grind coaching college.”
He spent one season as associate head coach before being named head coach ahead of the 2022-23 season. Since taking over, Pandolfo and his team have found great success.
The No. 8/7 Terriers, boasting an 11-5-0 record through the first half, have a talented freshman class supported by veteran leadership and strong goaltending.
“It’s been a lot of fun. I’ve been fortunate to have the group I have,” Pandolfo said on coaching this season. “We have a veteran team, some players that have been here for a while. They have made my job easier.”
Throughout his career, Pandolfo has seen the importance of “buying in,” and the Terriers have done just that this season.
“The leaders on this team are motivated. Last year, they felt they had a pretty good team and to not make the NCAA tournament was very disappointing,” Pandolfo said. “I think that’s helping the younger players understand that it’s important to do things the right way and to do things together as a group. I think everyone has bought in.”
The Terriers will face more tests as they finish the second half of their season, but Pandolfo will not worry about his team’s compete level.
“College guys may think they’re working hard at times, but there’s always another level that they can get to,” Pandolfo said. “Our guys are really good at understanding that this year. They’re not taking anything for granted.”