Perseverance, sportsmanship and dedication defined former Minnesota North Star Bill Masterton to a tee. In the four decades since his death, the National Hockey League has honored his memory by annually awarding the Masterton Memorial Trophy to an NHL player who exemplifies those same qualities.
Every NHL team’s beat reporters nominate one player from that team for this prestigious award. This year, a select group of New York-area writers chose Jay Pandolfo
as the Islanders nominee for the Masterton Memorial Trophy.
“It’s an honor to be nominated for the Masterton Trophy,” Pandolfo said. “Some of the guys that have won this before have come back from a lot more than I did, so to be named among those guys means a lot. Anytime you’re honored like this, it’s special.”
Past winners have overcome illnesses and injuries to return to the league as successful players. But it’s Pandolfo’s commitment to the game and determination to finding a way back to the NHL that made him the Islanders candidate.
After 13 seasons with the New Jersey Devils organization, Pandolfo found himself without a team following an injury-plagued 2009-10 season. At 35-years-old, free agency did not bode well as teams were adding youth. He eventually caught on with the Columbus Blue Jackets AHL affiliate Springfield Falcons with a tryout in November 2010.
He played 12 games for them before his surgically-repaired shoulder started giving him issues again. Pandolfo took about six months to regroup mentally and physically before deciding last June that he wanted to give the NHL another shot. The Islanders gave him that shot with a tryout in September.
The Islanders gave me an opportunity for a tryout and I can’t say enough about them. Garth Snow, Jack Capuano and Charles Wang gave me the chance to continue my career here; it’s meant a lot to me.” - Jay Pandolfo
The team gave him the opportunity, but Pandolfo skated away with it. After the struggles of the prior two years, he couldn’t let it go that easily.
“It was tough – I wasn’t sure if my career was done or not,” Pandolfo said. “I didn’t think it was, so I stuck with my training and everything. I thought if I could get back in shape and stay healthy, I could hopefully help the team.”
Help he has. At 37, Pandolfo is the second-oldest player on the Islanders next to fellow camp-tryout-turned-veteran-leader Steve Staios
. He’s been a steadying presence on the fourth line all season long, providing valuable forechecking and penalty killing to a team still learning those intangibles it takes to win. And he’s enjoyed it.
“It’s been great to be back,” Pandolfo said. “This organization is headed in the right direction and I’m glad to be a part of it. It’s a young team that’s taking the right steps forward and I think this is team is going to be one of the top teams in the league in the next couple years. They’re just learning the way to win and I’m happy I can help with that.”
After missing an entire year of action, Pandolfo proved that he could still cut it in the world’s greatest hockey league. These past six months have served notice to 29 other teams that couldn’t or wouldn’t take him on. Now, he’s playing at the highest level and showing some bright, young stars what it takes to stay at that level. Even though many were surprised with his re-emergence in the NHL, after the year Pandolfo’s had, no one would be surprised with an appearance in Las Vegas this June.