By Don Stewart
READING, Pa. – By the end of Wednesday morning’s practice, Mike Pandolfo carried the look of a guy who had just pulled a 12-hour shift at the mill without a coffee break.
The circles under his eyes and stubble on his chin made it clear he could use a nap and a shower.
“It’s been a long last day,” the 26-year-old forward said.
Pandolfo found out Tuesday afternoon at around 5:30 that he’d been offered an ECHL contract by the Reading Royals. He arrived in Reading at 8:30 Wednesday morning, just in time to take his mandatory physical
He was on the ice by 10:30, about 45 minutes into practice. Pandolfo spent the next hour cramming for the team’s first test, the season opener Saturday night at Johnstown.
“I was just worrying about standing up on the ice out there,” he said. “I had a lot of stuff getting thrown at me.”
The Royals are certainly excited to have him around. Pandolfo, the younger brother of New Jersey Devils veteran Jay Pandolfo, was a three-year AHL mainstay at Syracuse who had a three-game NHL stint with Columbus at the end of the 2003-04 season.
His skill, experience and 6-3, 226-pound frame should make him tough to stop at this level. Reading is matching him with Los Angeles Kings prospect Shay Stephenson and second-year ECHL center Rich Peverley to form a potentially frightening line.
“I’m excited,” Royals coach Karl Taylor said. “He’s a very veteran guy. He’s got the bloodlines, obviously, with his brother. He’s a big guy, takes up a lot of space. He’s really got good skills as well.
“I know he’s happy to be here and get a chance to get rolling. Initially, I think it’s going to take a few days to get used to what we do and how we operate. But once he gets up to speed, I think he’ll be a great addition for us.”
Pandolfo played in the World Junior Championships in 1998 and ’99 and was a fifth-round pick by Buffalo in the 1998 NHL Entry Draft. The Winchester, Mass., native opted to play at Boston University, where he scored 109 points in 150 games.
After three AHL seasons with Syracuse, Pandolfo spent this preseason in camp with the New Jersey Devils. The Devils’ AHL affiliate, Albany, released him Oct. 4.
Pandolfo was forced to skate alone to stay in shape while his agent tried to get him on a team close to home. During that time, he feels he lost most of the conditioning he gained during his 31/2 weeks on the ice with the Devils.
“It’s kind of hard to skate by yourself,” Pandolfo said. “You get bored after five minutes. So I kind of lost a little bit of what I had going.
“But I think it’ll come back pretty quick. I think two more good days and a pregame skate Saturday morning, and I’ll be fine.”