“I don’t want to use the word audition,” Bruce Cassidy said postgame about Kenny Agostino’s first game on Causeway Street, “because you hate to say that word when the season is going on, but that’s what it is a little bit here.”
October 19, 2017 – audition day in the diary of the Bruins forward after 17 previous NHL games with Calgary and St. Louis in his three-year pro career.
Now with his third NHL team, the Morristown, NJ, native is no stranger to big days. Signed as a free agent by GM Don Sweeney last July 1, Agostino also has April 13, 2013, ingrained in his puck past. That night, the 2010 Penguins’ draftee helped to lead his Yale Bulldogs to a first-ever NCAA title – coincidentally in the Steel City – in a 4-0 win over Quinnipiac.
With an Ivy degree in one hand, Agostino ended that magical run with 132 points in 132 NCAA contests.
He would get traded shortly after to Calgary, then onto St. Louis where his AHL career would take off all the way to MVP honors last season with 24 goals and 59 assists for 83 points for the Chicago Wolves.
The 6-foot, 200-pound Agostino was penciled in on the third line at left wing with Riley Nash at center and a returning David Backes on the right. And a shift on the first power-play unit in the cards.
All on a night when the NHL, NBA, NFL and MLB played for only the 17th time in sports history.
“It’s a good opportunity,” Agostino said after morning practice about wherever he might be. “I’m looking forward to it.”
Many reasons for that opportunity. One, the injury to Ryan Spooner, now on the shelf for 4-6 weeks with a groin tear.
Likely more appropriate, Agostino’s AHL Player of the Week honors last week with two goals and three assists in two Providence wins; seven points in the first three P-Bruins games.
Into Thursday night, Brad Marchand led the B’s with six points in five games.
“It’s a league where I feel comfortable,” Agostino said in understatement about his AHL proclivities. “Nice to put some away there.”
Just what the Bruins need here with only 14 goals in five games; six of them in the 6-2 win over Phoenix.
Also headlining the tangle with the Vancouver Canucks was the return of Patrice Bergeron in his 900th NHL game – and the first game of the season with Boston’s first line of Anders Bjork, Bergeron and Marchand intact. After an early Canucks strike from Derek Dorsett at 2:58, Bjork would knot the game at 3:29 with assists to Bergeron and Marchand.
And a wild opening 20 was underway.
A David Pastrnak unassisted end-to-end thing-of-beauty with the Bruins on a five-minute power play at 9:03 gave Boston the lead. Twenty-three seconds later, a second Bjork tally and a 3-1 lead. Yep, a minute later, David Krejci for a 4-1 lead at 10:40.
The last time the Bruins had such a start? Game 6 of the Cup Final in 2011 when they pasted Vancouver with four in the first.
One assist on Krejci’s tally to Kenny Agostino. In his first period in a Bruins’ uniform, Agostino logged 6:21 with six shifts and a whopping 4:45 on the power play, second only to Torey Krug’s 4:57.
“Yeah,” Cassidy said, “he was going in on [Ryan] Spooner’s spot.”
“He’s smart and strong on the puck,” Bergeron, the game’s No. 1 star said about Agostino. “He played well.”
A Marchand right-dot wrister stretched the lead to 5-1 halfway into the game. But Vancouver turned a few tables in a 34-second span, first with Agostino taking two for slashing and Vancouver connecting on a Thomas Vanek goal at 16:06. Bo Horvat cut the deficit to two at 5-3 at 16:40.
Bergeron completed a storybook return with his first goal and fourth point of the night at 11:53.
Agostino’s final night’s work read 16:08 of ice time on 18 shifts; 7:22 on the power play.
One major Black and Gold need into training camp? A left wing on the third line.
“He is a left stick that has done that in the past,” Cassidy said. “We’ve talked about that at a lower level very successfully, we’re going to give him that opportunity at this level. I thought he did a good job with it. We’ll see going forward how it plays out.”
What are the major challenges for Agostino to make the AHL to NHL jump?
“There’s guys in the American League that skate well,” Cassidy, the former P-Bruins coach said, “shoot well, they just, that part of the game I find there is a difference. The stick position and the angles. They just learn to defend better. Or they’re better defenders up here.”
Bruins defenseman Kevan Miller knows a little about coming up through the ranks from the NCAA to the AHL and NHL. He played 154 games with the Providence Bruins after four years at Vermont.
“We signed him for that [MVP] reason,” Miller said about Agostino. “He deserves a shot at the NHL. If he gets around the net like he did tonight, the goals will come.”