Bruce Shatel, the high school hockey coach at the Delbarton School in New Jersey, made up his mind after one glance at the five-foot tall, 120-pound ninth grader at his hockey tryouts four years ago. There was absolutely no way this kid was making varsity. Then Kenny Agostino ’14 started skating.
“His decision-making and his poise forced my hand,” Shatel said.
Agostino, now a forward on the No. 1 Yale men’s hockey team, has grown a foot taller and put on 75 pounds since then. The decision-making and the poise have stayed the same. That’s apparent in his statistics: he has scored seven goals in his past seven games and has tallied more points than any other Eli in 2011. It’s apparent from his coach’s decisions: he has chosen Agostino to fill in for the injured Jeff Anderson ’11 on the power play, a role usually reserved for a team’s best forwards. And it’s apparent in the respect of opponents: last week, Agostino earned ECAC Rookie of the Week honors in a vote of the conference’s hockey programs.
The Berkeleyite’s performance is particularly remarkable because he does not come from a typical Yale hockey background. Every other player on the Elis’ roster comes either from a junior league or from a New England prep school. Many went from high school to the juniors — full time amateur leagues — for up to three years of seasoning before entering college. Agostino made the jump to the NCAA as an 18-year-old straight from the New Jersey private school league.
“It’s impressive to say the least,” said Mike Matczak ’11, who himself played two years of New Jersey hockey before transferring to Milton Academy, a more traditional feeder school directly to top hockey programs.
Agostino’s jump to college hockey has been impressive, but so too was his performance in high school. He won three state championships in his four years at Delbarton, where he owns the record for career points. Agostino was the captain and top scorer on a senior year team that boasted eight players who had committed to play Division I hockey. After that campaign, he was named New Jersey State Player of the Year — for the second time.
“He’s the most dynamic kid I’ve ever coached,” Shatel said. “Our mantra was that you can’t be a clown 22 hours a day and then step on the ice and play like a pro for two hours. You just can’t turn that switch. Kenny was one of the best guys we ever had about being the same serious, committed guy on and off the ice.”
His high school numbers might have earned Agostino interest from better-known hockey universities than Yale. But the young star, whose course load this term ranges from Balance of Power to Bioethics, said that he wasn’t paying much attention to the school’s hockey performance when he committed. He found the education impossible to turn down.
No amount of high school hockey success is equivalent to playing at the next level. It took time for Agostino to adjust to the faster-paced college game. Before the winter vacation, he had played in barely half of Yale’s games and registered just three points.
“Like a lot of freshmen, [Agostino] was just okay until the Christmas break,” head coach Keith Allain ’80 said last week. “But he came back after the holiday almost like a different person. He had it figured out.”
In Yale’s first game of the New Year, the freshman buried three goals and tied a team freshman record with five points as the Elis routed Holy Cross, 10–3. Agostino has not let up the pace. He has played in every game since then and scored a total of 11 points in 2011. No Yale player has more.
That scoring spree is no surprise to Clinton Bourbonais ’14, who has played on Agostino’s line for the past two weeks.
“Kenny is an offensive threat every time he steps onto the ice, Bourbonais said. “Whether it’s his break away speed, his unbelievable hands, or his grit in the corners, he has the skill set to make defenders quiver.”
His teammates’ praise does not end with Agostino’s offensive weapons. Bourbonais also called his teammate an underrated defensive player willing to put his neck on the line to block a shot.
Antoine Laganiere ’13, another linemate, mentioned Agostino’s physical play.
“I wouldn’t say he hits that many guys during a game, but he does use his body in other ways that render him very effective,” Laganiere said. “What I mean is that he uses his body and strength to protect the puck very well.”
Agostino showed that strength off to the crowd last Friday. Yale and Clarkson were tied when he powered past a visiting defender, held another off with one hand, and used the other hand to manage a shot that snuck past the Golden Knights’ helpless netminder.
Those efforts have hardly gone unnoticed. The Pittsburgh Penguins drafted Agostino after his senior season with the 140th overall selection in the 2010 NHL draft. The prospect — a New York Rangers fan who admits that he used to hate the Penguins — plays down his own selection.
“It was a great honor, but for the next four years it doesn’t mean anything at all,” he said. “What matters right now is Yale hockey, and I want to focus on playing well here. “
The star rookie, however, isn’t focusing only on hockey. Eager to try something different, he began studying Indonesian in the fall. Hockey might barely register as a niche sport in Indonesia but Agostino has had no trouble with the new language, according to his professor, Indriyo Sukmono.
“He’s a balanced, disciplined student even though he’s busy with hockey,” Sukmono said.
That’s no surprise to the man who gave Agostino a chance on the varsity despite the ninth grader’s diminutive stature.
“He’s charismatic, but also extremely focused,” Shatel said. “He does all the little things. He eats the right food, he cares about his sleep, he has good manners. Everything about him is serious and put together.”