It's an age-old sports story that an unlikely candidate beats the odds against winning a job. Speaking of age, Steve Staios is 38, Jay Pandolfo 36 -- and both came to Islanders camp as non-contract tryouts.
Surrounded by such kiddos as John Tavares, 21, Josh Bailey, 22, and Kyle Okposo, 23, "it makes you feel young," Pandolfo said, "as long as you don't look at their birth dates. I try not to look at that. They like to have fun and they're excited to be here and they want to get better every day, and as an older guy, that kind of makes you feel younger."
Staios played his first NHL game in 1995, Pandolfo in '97. And neither was assured that their playing careers would continue this fall. Yet, here is Staios, offered a contract last Friday and expected to be paired with the team's best defenseman, captain Mark Streit, in Saturday's season opener against Florida. Pandolfo Tuesday was signed to a one-year deal, eager to fill "whatever role they want me to."
Staios had been let go by Calgary, his fifth NHL team, after last season, his 15th in the league. Pandolfo, whose 12 NHL years all were with New Jersey, spent last season in the American Hockey League with Springfield.
"The game's changed," Staios said. "From playing the game when it was clutch and grab, then sort of a middle point; now, it's speed. I've been able to survive through all that by just trying to be progressive. I was bigger before, now I've leaned out [at 6-1, 200], trying to work on my feet and handling the puck a little bit. It's been an adjustment, but I've kind of picked away at it every year."
Pandolfo, a 6-1, 191-pound left wing, briefly was a teammate in New Jersey of the Islanders' other old/new man -- 38-year-old forward Brian Rolston, obtained in a late-July trade for Trent Hunter. Rotated among linemates during camp, Pandolfo recently has been working on the fourth line with Matt Martin and Marty Reasoner.
"I wasn't really positive of my chances," Pandolfo said. "I knew they'd give me some exhibition games; they followed through with everything they said. I just tried to do what I do and it ended up working out."
Part of his and Staios' value, of course, is their senior status, the realization that "you can't make the playoffs today or tomorrow," Staios said. "But you can definitely take steps toward it. You're going to have ups and downs throughout the year; I think that's where maybe I can help out. It's a grind, it's a long season. Hopefully, guys can lean on me and I can lend leadership."
Notes & quotes: Forward Ryan Strome, the team's first-round 2011 draft pick, signed a three-year, entry-level contract.