The NCAA championship Frozen Four was held last weekend in Pittsburgh and, pretty much by total chance, the two Flames prospects acquired in the Jarome Iginla trade with the Penguins participated. The Yale Bulldogs, with Kenny Agostino in tow, rolled past two heavily favored teams in UMass Lowell and Quinnipiac to win their first-ever national title, while the recently-signed Ben Hanowski and his St. Cloud State Huskies were bounced in the semifinals by No. 1 Quinnipiac.
Here is some stuff I saw from each of them on the weekend (the first time I’ve ever seen either in person) with the obvious caveat that I got to see Agostino twice and Hanowski just once in what was a rather grim losing effort. Between them, the two snipers — who combined for 34 goals this season, a not-bad number in NCAA hockey — had between them a solitary assist, that being Agostino’s in the championship game, so it also wasn’t all that productive.
Obviously he had the far more successful weekend (what with all the national title winning) and it was pretty easy to see why. He was a decent-sized cog in Yale’s ultra-aggressive forecheck, which really unbalanced both Lowell and the Q, which relied on strong transitions for their offenses all year. The Bulldogs allowed just two goals in six-plus periods, as the Lowell game went to overtime.
Agostino is blazing fast and skilled, playing on the wing for Yale’s top line, which got heavy minutes. Again, Agostino only had one assist, on a great seam pass to spring captain Andrew Miller for a breakaway that made the national title game a 3-0 joke-a-thon, but his line was busy busy busy all weekend, combining for three of Yale’s seven goals. In particular, they devoured the Lowell defense, putting up 14 of Yale’s 47 shots against a team that was one of the best in the nation defensively. They did more or less the same thing — recording 12 of the team’s 31 shots — in the national title game against Quinnipiac, which was definitively the best possession team in the country; they had among the fewest shots allowed, fewest goals allowed, one of the highest shot totals, and was in the top-5 in faceoffs. Shots ended 36-31 in that game but very few actually appeared all that threatening.
None of this, however, is to say that in the actual course of the game, I never really had my attention grabbed by Agostino himself, which I guess is a weird thing to say about a guy who had 11 shots in two games against probably the two best teams in the country (insofar as they were ranked at Nos. 1 and 2 in the country headed into the Frozen Four).
From everything I’ve read, though, Agostino’s best gifts are those he bears as a leader of men, because he was apparently a leader in the dressing room, and despite winning 3-2 and 4-0 this weekend, it’s not as though the Bulldogs didn’t face adversity, because they really did. They went up two goals on Lowell in the national semifinal, and the River Hawks have a reputation for bouncing back incredibly in the face of difficult situations.
Case in point: They scored twice in 14 seconds to tie the game, and for a little while Yale looked like it would be very much in tough against the hottest team in the country, which had won 24 of its previous 28 games. The Lowell offense mustered relatively little the rest of the way and with Agostino on the ice, Miller scored on a partial break about seven minutes into overtime to put Yale, the very last at-large bid in the tournament, through to the championship game.
Likewise, the Bulldogs weren’t getting much done against Quinnipiac either until last in the second period, when a bout of prolonged offensive zone possession led to a goal to put Yale up 1-0 with just 3.5 seconds to go. Quinnipiac is, again, a deep, experienced, very good team — or rather, was one — and being down one goal with a whole period to go wasn’t likely to discourage them, but Yale didn’t relent, scoring again about three and a half minutes into the third, and putting a stake in the heart of Quinnipiac’s hopes. The Miller breakaway goal five and a half minutes after that, from Agostino, really and truly cemented it.
Hanowski obviously had far less to do than Agostino this weekend, and he honestly barely even made an impression on me. But as with Agostino, I guess saying that is weird because the stat sheet says he had eight shots. Hell if I can remember the details of any of them.
I do remember thinking he was good enough along the boards and obviously he was fairly active around the net given that he put up those eight shots, but again, none really stood out to me as being all that dangerous, and you have to keep in mind I was trying to keep an eye on him given his status with the Flames. Couldn’t tell you if the reports of his skating being a bit underwhelming were true, and obviously didn’t get a look at his goalscoring ability. He was, however, complicit in allowing the opening goal, just 1:49 into the game because he made a no-effort defensive "play" in trying to stop Oilers prospect Jordan Samuels-Thomas on the wraparound. I mean, just look at this in abject terror. Woof. He was also on the ice for Quinnipiac’s fourth goal, but by then the game was academic, so really, who cares?
I wasn’t all that impressed. Now that he’s in the NHL, though, you’ll all obviously be able to form your own opinions (82 goal pace projected over a full season).