Rising To The Occasion by Steve Conn, Yale Sports Publicity Director
No active college player had been part of an NHL transaction featuring a hall of fame caliber player until Kenny Agostino had his rights traded from Pittsburgh to Calgary on March 27, 2013, in a deal that included Flames captain Jarome Iginla being sent to the Penguins.
Agostino, a Yale junior preparing to face No. 1 seed Minnesota at the NCAA West Regional, was asleep in his Grand Rapids, Mich., hotel room when it happened. He awoke to text messages and voice mails from family and friends with congratulations, but didn't confirm anything until reading the news online a day before playing the Gophers.
"I had a lot more [messages] than usual. I knew something happened," said Agostino. "It was a shock, a weird feeling. I had a relationship with the organization for three years, and I was going to their camps. I see the business of the sport, which is probably a good thing. There seems to be a lot of room for young players to step in with Calgary."
The timing of this trade could only add to the pressure and anxiety Agostino was already feeling as he prepared for the big stage of the national tournament. He and another college player, whose team would also reach the Frozen Four, had been traded for a guy who was a seven-time NHL All-Star, a two-time Olympic Gold Medalist and a two-time NHL goal scoring leader who had amassed 525 goals.
"Coach [Dan] Muse pulled me aside. He asked me if everything was ok and if we could put the news on the backburner inorder to focus on playing Minnesota. All my focus was on playing Minnesota. I was trying to win a national championship. I was worried about my first shift," said Agostino. "It was a great experience for me to mature as a player. It was big news in the hockey world, but it was important not to let it bother me."
Instead of getting frazzled, Agostino did what he has done so often in big moments… make plays. The Flanders, N.J., native scored the game's first goal at Van Andel Arena and then waited for Crunch Time to make one of the most significant plays in the history of Yale hockey.
Linemate Jesse Root lost the opening face-off of OT, but the puck took a funny hop and headed behind the Gopher cage. With the puck on the stick of a defenseman along the boards, Agostino stripped it and passed it out for Root, who one-timed it into an open side of the net nine seconds in. It was the fastest OT goal in the history of the NCAA Tournament.
"I've watched that goal a lot," said Agostino. "It's funny how it all happened. I was telling Rooter [Jesse Root] or Andrew [Miller] that every time we lost a draw, their winger was doing a great job of blocking me out. This time, I will spin out and go the other way."
You could see the dark Blue No. 18 jersey closing down quickly on the Gopher blueliner. "I like to whack my stick sometimes. It works sometimes. You can see the top of his stick goes out of his hand and he flubs the pass," said Agostino. "I knew where Rooter would be, and we're playing North Dakota (regional championship game) the next day."
Ironically, Agostino's OT winner at then No. 2 Denver four months earlier could have been the difference in his team qualifying for the 2013 NCAA Tournament. His 17 goals and team-high 41 points showed the consistency and marquis value of a forward who went on to earn West Regional All-Tournament honors while helping his team make the national title run.
"Kenny has been a great player and a wonderful young man," said Keith Allain '80, Yale's Malcolm G. Chace Head Coach. "The energy and enthusiasm he brings to the rink on a daily basis is a real boost for all of us involved with Yale Hockey."
His big plays are not exclusive to OT. During his sophomore season Agostino scored goals in consecutive games with under 35 seconds left in regulation, one for a win (at Dartmouth) and another to send it to overtime (SLU).
"I'm very competitive and I'm very hard on myself. I get a little extra shot of adrenaline at those times," said Yale's active career scoring leader with 122 points (13th at Yale).
He's not that picky how the puck gets to the net, but Agostino, who has 53 collegiate goals, is concerned about what gets it there.
"He's pretty particular about his sticks, and he's got to have a fresh roll of Howies Hockey Tape before every game," said Jeff Torre, the team's equipment manager. "He has a great sense of humor and we have a lot of fun with him. I might change the name on his stick or give him the wrong ones with his name on it, but he just rolls with it. He does want to be perfect on every shift, but he can have fun before that."
Nobody can argue with his choice of weapon, especially since the second half of his rookie campaign. Agostino went home for the break during the 2010-11 season with a goal and four points and then hit the net eight times with a dozen points during January. That run – which included a three-goal, five-point day against Holy Cross -earned the Bulldog star the rookie of the month by the Hockey Commissioner's Association.
"I had a steep learning curve coming right from high school. I loved my time at Delbarton and wouldn't trade it for anything, but you can't compare the two (USHL, high school) levels," said Agostino, who said being away from home for the first time could have also contributed. "When I came back to school, I understood how fast you had to play, the tempo and intensity you needed to play college hockey. The coaches were great with me."
He calls his dad his best friend and his most important mentor because of the amount of time they've spent working on his game, traveling together or just talking (they talk 3 times a day).
"He'd be shooting pucks at me in our garage or running me through drills on roller blades in my basement," said Agostino about his father, Ken, who managed some of his youth teams. "When I got cut at world juniors (2012 U.S. Junior National Team), he was the guy for me to lean on."
Kenny, who also mentioned how important his mom (Anne), sister and two brothers have been to him, has had many impressive mentors along the way, including his Delbarton coach, Bruce Shatel, but in his eyes his most recent takes the cake.
"Coach Allain is probably one of the best college hockey coaches of our generation. We are so fortunate to be learning from him. We are going to look back on this and say we probably played for the best college coach of all time," said Agostino, who mentioned how important his current coach was in the decision to return for his senior collegiate campaign.
"That was one of the toughest 24 or 48 hours of my life. Coach [Allain] said go home and take your time. When your dream is that close to you, it's tough to delay that," said Agostino. "The Yale diploma is not something many people can get. I could always come back, but tough to make things up. I also love my teammates, and this has been an unbelievable experience… and I didn't want to let that go."
Yalies didn't want to let him go either.