The really little things.
“Nowadays, texting is huge, right?” said Jay Pandolfo with a big smile. “So kids nowadays, they enjoy doing that. Sometimes, it might not be a phone call as much as it is texting. A lot of times, you try to call them and they won’t pick up the phone; you text them, and they text you back two seconds later.”
It isn’t too difficult for Pandolfo to figure out how to communicate with, and how to relate to, the young players coming up through the Bruins’ system. He was in their shoes not too long ago: His playing career, which spanned 15 years and three NHL teams, ended just over two years ago.
Last summer, Pandolfo joined Boston’s staff as development coach, and on Saturday morning, Bruins General Manager Don Sweeney announced that in 2015-16, Pandolfo will transition to a new role as Director of Player Development.
It is an area of expertise in which Pandolfo has excelled over the last year, and one that comes naturally to him.
“Getting into it last year, [I] kind of eased into it — spent a lot of time in Providence, spent a lot of time around Don and just kind of enjoyed it, and really got to like it,” Pandolfo said following Saturday’s practice at the First Niagara Center in preparation for this weekend’s Prospects Challenge in Buffalo. “I like being a part of it, I like helping the younger guys out and it kind of expanded from there.”
Part of the reason player development has come so naturally to him, perhaps, is because relating to the players he is developing comes naturally to him as well.
“I just think hockey players, they’re all a lot alike — I’ve been there, so I kind of know sometimes what guys might be thinking,” Pandolfo said. “That makes it easy.”
The players can concur. Forward Colby Cave, who signed with the Bruins as a free agent this past April, spent some time working with Pandolfo at the end of the Providence Bruins’ 2014-15 season, and then again during July’s development camp.
“[He’s] obviously very resourceful,” Cave said. “The guy played a lot of years in the NHL, and he learned a lot of things, obviously, playing that long, so it’s nice just to know a guy that can relate to you. He’s been in the same position, so it’s really nice for a guy to teach you the way like that.”
Not only has Pandolfo been in their shoes before, as a guy trying to carve out a niche in the NHL, but he was there as recently as two years ago. In the players’ eyes, that certainly makes him more relatable.
“You can almost treat him like one of the guys in the dressing room — you connect the same way, and he knows exactly what everyone’s going through in the room, and he’s been through a lot of different positions and stuff,” Cave said. “So having a guy like that, it really makes you comfortable and a lot less nervous going through [the] system, too.”
Last year, Pandolfo spent the bulk of his time in Providence, working with the team’s signed prospects. In his new role, he will also spend substantial time traveling, watching some of the team’s unsigned prospects and seeing them through their development as well.
“I might not get to as many Providence Bruins games because I will be watching our unsigned draft picks, whether they’re in college, or junior players, and a couple of guys we have overseas,” he said. “So I’ll be doing a little more traveling to see those guys. That will take me a little bit away from some of the Providence games, but I’ll still be there quite a bit.”
Pandolfo plans to be a resource for those players, too, just like he was last year for the players coming through Providence.
“I’m not X’s and O’s, really, for the guys; it’s more, what they need to get better at, what they need to keep working on, stuff like that,” he said. “I will be able to watch video of some of the guys as well, now that there’s so much access to video at all levels, so that will help out a lot. Sometimes, it might not even be in person; I might watch some of the guys’ games and be able to talk to them about what I see, and what he’s doing well, and what he’s not doing well. That’s a help; now that you have videos, you can really watch these guys closely.”
Pandolfo’s role is a bit different, but the end goal remains the same: Give these prospects the tools and the input they need to someday become Boston Bruins.
That is precisely what he has been doing over the last two days as the B’s prepare for the Prospects Tournament in Buffalo. P-Bruins coaches Bruce Cassidy and Kevin Dean have been leading the practices, but Pandolfo has been out there on the ice, too, offering pointers and expertise wherever it is needed.
Sometimes, that might be clarifying a new drill; sometimes, that might be a chat against the boards and a few words of encouragement that make all the difference for the 24 rookies at this camp.
“[He’s] just telling you, ‘Keep playing the same way, you’re here for a reason, and play the way that got you here,’” Cave said. “There’s a lot of scouts and a lot of the management up watching, so everything you do on the ice, off the ice, just act professional and just be respectful and work hard at all times.”
It is clear that Pandolfo’s message is getting through to the players. And it is clear that whatever he says is well-received because these players know that if it worked for Pandolfo, it will work for them, too.
“It’s good to have guys out there that have been there before and know what they’re talking about,” said forward Colton Hargrove. “You need to listen to what they have to say, take it to heart, take it seriously because they know what they’re talking about. We’ve never been there before, and they have.
“So whatever advice they have to give us, we need to listen to it and take it seriously.”