Freshman on NHL campus, Agostino set to begin learning curve in the big leagues
Yale star pumped to play his first NHL game on Friday vs. the Nashville Predators
Being a Yale man (“Boola, Boola, Boola, Boola!” goes the ol’ school fight song) Ken Agostino’s in good company. Bill Clinton, William F. Buckley Jr., Sinclair Lewis, Cole Porter are, or were, too.
Well, he’s on a different sort of campus now, one, in its own way, also of the highest learning. Once again he finds himself in good company. NHL company.
“I think I’m as comfortable as I could be,” said the 21-year-old who marks his Calgary Flames/NHL debut Friday against the Nashville Predators. “I think there’ll be some nerves on that first shift, but hopefully I get hit and get engaged right away.
“Obviously, I’m really excited. Since I’ve been here, how comfortable and confident I’ve gotten over the past three or four days has improved a lot.
“I’m very fortunate to be here. Just like everyone is when they get the chance to play in the NHL. So I’m just going to take time to appreciate where I am but I also have to prepare to play hockey, that’s first and foremost.
“It’s crazy how it has all come together. You sort of have to rebound real quick from dealing with your college career ending and then three days later you’re signing with an NHL organization and now playing my first NHL game. It’s going to be a special night for me, my family, my close friends. I want to take that in stride. I’m not going out there just to be there.”
The Flames are flying Agostino’s parents in for the game.
“That’s great. The Flames have done a great job, letting them share this experience with me. It obviously means a lot.”
At Thursday practice, Bob (The Rebuilder) Hartley had Agostino teamed with a couple of other moppets, Sean Monahan and Joe Colborne.
“Hey, I like to put them in situations to see how they’ll adjust,” reasoned Hartley. “Here’s three kids, and two of t hem have done unbelievably well in their first NHL season. So, hey, I throw them out there and say: Find a way.
“He looks pretty good. I’m happy that we invested a few days in Kenny. He’s had a few nights of sleep, he’s had a video session, we skated with him yesterday morning, he practised today with his teammates. So it’s sinking in. Tomorrow, obviously, there’s lots of nerves for your first NHL game, which is normal.
“What we’ve tried to tell him, to do with him, was like ‘Don’t overthink the game.’ Don’t be caught on the ice wondering ‘Should I be right or should I be left?’ Play the game. Make mistakes. That’s OK. It’s a game of mistakes. Just don’t get caught after the game saying ‘I didn’t move my feet.’
“Play the game. Have fun.”
That message hasn’t been lost on Agostino.
“I’m definitely getting information. I think that’s important. But they’re telling me as far as systems go and everything, bottom line everyone keeps saying: You just gotta play the game. It’s a hockey game. The most important thing is not to think too much, just let your instincts take over.”
The fact that Agostino was part of the deal that sent franchise icon Jarome Iginla to Pittsburgh 13 months ago makes him a bit of local curiosity. But he’s not feeling any extra weight on his shoulders.
“Not so much. There was probably more pressure on (Ben Hanowski, also a part of the trade), being that it was the same year. It’s been a year now. As I’ve said time and time again it was such an honour to be part of a trade with such a legend as Iginla but that’s in the past and certainly I’m not feeling any added pressure, being part of that trade.”
Of more anxiety are his marks from school.
“Actually,” revealed Agostino, “I just got an e-mail back from the most important class, the one I was worried about. And he said ‘Congratulations. We’ll work it out. Have fun.’ So that’s one down.”
Friday, Bob Hartley is doing the grading. And while a stickler for detail, a notoriously hard marker, he understands that on this particular campus, Agostino is a raw freshman.
“I look at Kenny’s poise with the puck, his vision with the puck. He’s pretty gifted. He has good hands. The understanding of the game? Well, obviously, he’s a kid coming out of college or junior. They always need time.
“This is a big jump for him.”
Follow George Johnson on Twitter/GeorgejohnsonCH
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