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John McGourty | Staff Writer
Feb 12, 2007, 12:00 PM EST

In the 28-year history of the Frank J. Selke Trophy (for best defensive forward), only one pair of linemates have been awarded the trophy (in different years).

You'd probably guess Montreal Canadiens' forwards Bob Gainey and Doug Jarvis, but Jarvis was with Washington when he won in 1984, after Gainey had won the trophy in its first four years, 1978-81.

No, the linemates were Chicago Blackhawks Troy Murray (1986) and Dirk Graham (1991). Graham joined the Blackhawks in 1988 and played on Murray's line through 1991.

It could happen again. New Jersey Devils forward Jay Pandolfo is one of the leading candidates this season and could join linemate John Madden, the 2001 winner who has twice been the runner-up.

Pandolfo is having an outstanding season and that comes as no surprise to his teammates, who voted him their Unsung Hero and Players' Player awards last season. Pandolfo has eight goals and 10 assists this season and while he is minus-2 in his role of playing against other teams' top lines, what coach Claude Julien likes is that Pandolfo has picked up only six minutes in penalties.

Anybody who can hold the NHL's top stars nearly even while avoiding putting them on the power play is a very valuable player indeed.

But if it pays to advertise, Pandolfo still has every dime he ever earned. He won't brag. According to him, he's a cog in a system that works very well.

"He won't brag, so I'll do it for him," said teammate Jamie Langenbrunner. "Our success starts with Jay. Obviously, John Madden is a great player too, one of the best in the game, and they have been outstanding together. We all realize Jay is the unsung hero. He does the jobs here no one else wants to do. He has sacrificed his own personal goals for the team's success and that's not an easy thing to ask someone to do."

"Jay is the ultimate 'company man,'" said goalie Martin Brodeur. "You can count on him to shut down the best players every night. He's willing to do the things other players around the league don't do. As a result, we are recognized as a great defensive team. 'Mad Dog' has more offense than Jay, so he gets more attention but they're both great."

This isn't the role that Pandolfo played at Boston University, where he was named to the Hockey East First All-Star Team, Hockey East Player of the Year and NCAA East First All-American Team after leading the Terriers to the 1996 NCAA title. He was the runner-up for the Hobey Baker Award.

"It definitely isn't. At BU, I played in defensive roles and penalty killing, but I also had more of an offensive role," Pandolfo said. "When I came to the Devils, Jacques Lemaire was the coach and his style was very defensive. Right away, I got put in a situation where I was playing defensive forward against the other team's top lines, along with Bobby Carpenter.

"It was nice to be able to start out playing with someone as smart as Bobby and as good. He was a very, very smart player, a guy who started his career as a scorer, a 50-goal scorer one year, and ended his career as one of the NHL's top defensive players under Jacques Lemaire. Bobby helped me with a lot of things and made my transition to the NHL easy. With him, it was all about little things, positioning, how to angle guys and how to pickpocket guys along the wall. Over the years, you keep learning the little things and you try not to make too many mistakes."

"I played with Jay and I coached him," said Carpenter. "Jay is a hard worker, on and off the ice, and never negative, always positive. He's a player a coach doesn't have to worry about, the lowest maintenance guy you could ever coach. Every one has a role and he does his very well. If you had all checkers, you wouldn't win either. If you play Jay's role, you have to take pride in it and not wish you were a goal scorer."

"I was just talking about Jay to a recruit the other day about adjusting your game as you move to the next level," said BU coach Jack Parker. "Here he was an All-American, one of the best offensive players we ever had and one of the most feared guys ever in Hockey East. He gets to the pro ranks and gets a different role. He was also a great defensive player here, a plus-minus leader who killed every penalty. He and Chris Drury killed every 5-on-3 against us. How would you like to have those two?

"A lot of guys might have ego problems, but Jay is devoid of ego in many, many ways. When he was BU captain, he was just as concerned about the guys on the fourth line, not just the stars. He hung out with everyone and supported everyone."

Even though Pandolfo was a top college player and had enough talent to break right into the NHL and stay for 10 seasons, he looks back and wonders how a guy who knew so little could have succeeded! I mentioned a young player a few years who was doing a good job ragging the puck on a penalty kill in the other team's end, but with less than a minute to play, passed back to his defenseman at the blue line. The puck went over the stick and the opposing forechecker picked it up and went in alone for the winning goal.

"When you're young, for whatever reason, you're not always thinking about what you have to do, given any possible situation that might arise," Pandolfo said. "With more experience, you start thinking how a play might be right at one time of the game and not another. I'm more aware of what time of game it is and what is the right play, given the time remaining.

"Most coaches tell you to protect the puck at your blue line and the other blue line," he continued. "Turnovers at those two spots are the worst. The more you play, the more you learn."

The Devils have consistently been one of the NHL's best defensive teams over the past decade and Scott Stevens, Ken Daneyko, Scott Niedermayer, Bruce Driver, Slava Fetisov, Alexei Kasatanov, Paul Martin and Martin Brodeur have gotten a lot of the credit. But then you realize Stevens and the Devils' other big hitters knew well in advance exactly where the contact point would be, based on the way Carpenter, Madden and Pandolfo and their right wings angled the puck carrier.

"I don't think of it that way," Pandolfo said. "We've always had good defensemen and having Marty in net helps. For the past five or six years, John Madden and I have played together and we've always had different right wings. But regardless of whether it's Bobby Carpenter, John Madden, me, someone else, and whichever right wing that is there, the role is the same against the top lines and on the penalty kill. That's the role I have here on the Devils. Management understands different guys are good at different things. When guys accept their roles, you have successful teams.

"Take me, playing an offensive role in college and then I come here. The people here know what we can do and it always helps to be put in a role that you're good at. They mix guys together who understand their roles and accept them. It makes a team better."

Brodeur was grinning like the Cheshire Cat when he answered this question: "When Jay says his job is all about predictable positioning and angling of opponents, doesn't that make it easier, say, for a Scott Stevens to deliver those crunching checks when he knows 30 or 40 feet beforehand exactly where that opponent will be?"

"Jacques Lemaire brought that to our organization and Lou Lamoriello last year showed us how to adapt that to the new game," Brodeur said. "We saw our system could still work at high speed. It's still a trap! Jay and John and Jamie and Sergei Brylin lure the opposing forwards to our 'D' and there's no outlet."

"In Lemaire's system, the defenseman is thinking, 'These wings are covered so I can step up and make the hit. My guy is going to cover these wings. My wings have got my back," Parker said. "If a defenseman isn't confident in his wings, he's not going to make the hit."

Pandolfo had the benefit of a solid athletic background. His grandfather, John Byrne, was the assistant hockey coach at Arlington (Mass.) High, under the legendary Eddie Burns, and his dad quarterbacked the Arlington High football team. The family's athletic tradition is continuing. Jay's brother, Mike, and cousin, Mark, are teammates on the ECHL Trenton Titans, a Devils' farm team. Mark's sisters, Angela and Danielle, star on BC's softball team.

"Jay's parents, Joe and Sheila, were a year ahead of me at Arlington," said Hockey East Commissioner Joe Bertagna. "Sheila's brother, Jack, played hockey at UMass and John Byrne, who was my junior-high hockey coach, is in the Northeastern University athletic Hall of Fame. So Jay has a good hockey lineage.

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