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Ice, Ice, Ivy – Chicago Wolves Forward Kenny Agostino

The only thing you’ll find serious about Kenny Agostino is his game – with an ivy league twist.

By Lindsey Willhite, Photos by Ross Dettman

1617-Breakaway-Issue3-Cover-DecFor much of Kenny Agostino’s hockey career, his mother, Anne, has had a deal with her oldest son.

When she attends his games, the 24-year-old Chicago Wolves forward is supposed to nod his head or provide some other subtle gesture that acknowledges he can hear her while on the ice.

“She’s 5-foot-3, but you can hear her for sure in a 14,000-seat arena,” Kenny said. “Or at least I always can. She’s the classic Italian mom. She’s the best.”

Ken Agostino, Kenny’s father and Anne’s loving husband for the last 28 years, isn’t surprised Kenny can hear his mom above the din. After all, Ken and Anne have enjoyed a lot of games together over the years. So anything Kenny hears, Ken hears at a much higher decibel level.

“My wife can whistle like a truck driver,” Ken said. “Maybe don’t put me down as the one who said that. It punctures my eardrum. But she just loves hockey.”

The whole Agostino family loves hockey, which has made Kenny’s journey that much sweeter for them to enjoy. From Delbarton School in New Jersey to Yale University to the NHL’s Calgary Flames to the Chicago Wolves, Kenny’s hockey life has been amazing.

That includes a remarkable start to his Wolves tenure. Through the team’s first 32 games, Agostino paced the entire American Hockey League in points (37) and assists (27). That included a dominant stretch where he handed out 21 assists in 16 games.

“He’s strong with the puck,” said Wolves head coach Craig Berube. “He’s making plays and he’s got skill with his hands. He can do some pretty neat things.”

“I have been fortunate to be one of those fathers who has gotten to be there to share it every step of the way,” Ken said.

Ken and Anne Agostino grew up on Staten Island. Neither went to college nor had interest in hockey. When Ken was 18, he opted to go into the finance industry. He worked a lot of years on Wall Street, but now he works from 3 to 11 p.m. (when the Asian market is open) managing his firm’s foreign currency desk.

He and Anne built a fine home and a great family in Flanders, N.J., roughly 45 miles west of New York City. First came Amanda, who graduated from University of Connecticut. Last came the twins, Davis and Trevor, who just graduated from Loyola (Md.), where they played club hockey and prepared for their own nascent financial careers.

Kenny arrived in 1992. Ken never played hockey – he grew up as a baseball pitcher – but he noticed how much Kenny enjoyed hockey when he gave it a try as a preschooler.  When he couldn’t play outside or at a rink, he’d whack roller balls and tennis balls and stickhandle with golf balls in the family’s unfinished basement.

“It became THE most important thing in his life,” Ken said.

Instead of leaving home to seek his hockey fortunes, Kenny enrolled at Delbarton School in Morristown, N.J. When he suited up for the varsity as a freshman, he stood all of 5-foot-tall and weighed 120 pounds. Ken remembers how tiny his son looked when standing on the ice next to the upperclassmen.

“One of the coaches told me, ‘Listen, your kid’s terrific. But I’m afraid he’s going to get hurt,’ ” Ken said. “I told him, ‘I don’t care.’ ”

Kenny grew each year – and his high-level skills with the puck kept growing at a similar rate. When his career at Delbarton School was through, he was the first (and remains the only) person to win New Jersey Player of the Year honors twice. He earned three state championships – the last one with brothers Davis and Trevor joining him on the varsity.

Oh, and he also was drafted in the fifth round of the 2010 NHL Entry Draft by the Pittsburgh Penguins. Though Kenny describes himself as a light-hearted person who tries not to take anything seriously except hockey, he didn’t jump at the chance to turn pro.

Yale has a way of doing that to a young man.

“I went to Yale and saw the campus and it sort of blew me away,” Kenny said. “They had just put a lot of money into their locker room, so the facilities and the rink were incredible. I don’t know if you’ve ever heard of it. The “Whale,” they call it. It’s a really cool architecturally structured arena. It was the coaching staff, the campus, just everything, I fell in love with it instantly. So when I got the offer, I think
I called them on the drive home and said, ‘I’m in.’

“I was a pretty decent student. I worked hard. Going to a school like Delbarton, they stress academics and athletics. Neither of my parents went to college, so to get an opportunity to get to go to a school like Yale – understanding that there is life after hockey – it was a no-brainer for me and my family.”

When Kenny headed to Yale, leaving behind a bedroom laden with trophies and medals and New York Rangers posters that remains intact today, he didn’t leave behind his family. Ken and Anne attended every game – home and away. Ken and Kenny, who calls his dad his best friend, talked three times a day.

Kenny also developed immediate friendships with all of his hockey teammates, including classmate Gus Young. The defenseman, who started this season with the Wolves, chimed in on his buddy prior to being traded to the San Antonio Rampage on Dec. 17.

“He’s hard not to like,” Young said. “He doesn’t take a lot too seriously. I think hockey is, by far, the thing he takes most seriously. He has a passion for it. He’s a laid-back kid. Easy to get along with. Funny. Goofy. That was definitely my first impression of him – and I would say those are still my impressions of him, to be honest.”

Blessed with several future pros such as Agostino and Young on the roster, Yale enjoyed the best run in its hockey history. In 2012-13, Kenny shared the team’s scoring honors when the Elis captured their first NCAA championship.  He and his teammates enjoyed an official invitation to visit to the White House, where they met President Obama as well as Secretary of State John Kerry (a Yale alum and big hockey fan).

Kenny’s senior season didn’t work out quite as well on the ice – the team fell short of another NCAA tournament bid – but he continued to enjoy all that his university had to offer. Yale is famous for its secret societies such as Skull and Bones. Prior to his senior year, Kenny was one of 15 people invited to join Mace and Chain. Once you’re part of such a society, you’re a member for life – which helps to explain why Kenny prefers not to reveal too many details about it.

“It’s one of the originals,” Kenny said. “There are eight original founding societies at Yale. You meet twice a week as a senior. It’s a really cool way to meet people on campus that you’ve never met. It’s not a crazy big campus, but obviously everyone finds their own niche and social circles. It was a great experience. I got to make friendships with people I would have never met at Yale.”

Kenny had to cut short his senior year, though, because the Calgary Flames had other plans for him. On March 15, 2014, he played his final game for Yale. Two days after that, the Flames signed him to a contract. Four days after that, he made his NHL debut against Nashville in Calgary. And, yes, his parents made the trip from New Jersey to see him play.

As Kenny joked with reporters the morning of the game,  “My mom will probably be the loudest woman in the arena.”

Kenny needed just five NHL games to earn his first professional goal – scoring against Florida’s Roberto Luongo on April 4, 2014.

“It was a bit of a whirlwind early on,” Kenny said. “Just a complete transition from college hockey to playing in the NHL, but it was obviously my dream to play in the NHL and a really special experience. I had my parents in the stands and my family in the stands for that first game.”