D'Agostino carrying hopes of Big Red Nation
by Adam Wodon/NYHJ Writer
From the time Nick D’Agostino walked onto Cornell’s campus, a lot was expected of him. It was clear early on that he was very capable of fulfilling those expectations.
Flashing forward to his senior season, D’Agostino has been to two NCAA tournaments and an ECAC championship game and came within a hair of the Frozen Four. But he’s had no time to enjoy it. Coming into this season, he’s now the leader of a team expected to go even further — or at least capable of it.
As he looks back trying to remember how it went by so fast, he has little time to ponder. He’s busy trying to figure out how to get this team to fulfill its potential.
“I don’t think that I would pick a different group of guys to go with into my senior year,” said D’Agostino, a senior defenseman. “I really like our team this year. If everything works out, hopefully it can be a special senior season.
“But I can’t even describe how quick these four years have gone. It feels like just yesterday I was a freshman playing with Colin Greening and Ben Scrivens, and now I’m the leader on this team. It’s flown by and, obviously, I’m hoping for a great year here.
“You only have four years of college, and once you leave you can never come back. All you have is your memories. It would’ve been a real tough decision to leave my teammates rather than graduate with a Cornell degree and have a chance to win a national championship. So, obviously, I’m here now and that’s all I’m thinking about.”
The 6-foot-2 D’Agostino, who hails from Bolton, Ont., spent two years with the St. Michael’s Buzzers in junior hockey, where he was teammates with current Big Red forwards Eric Axell and Greg Miller. The three have been inseparable for six years now and provide an anchor to a team that’s still relatively young.
“It’s been special, not just to play with them, but to live with them,” D’Agostino said. “They’re my best friends.
“My first year (with the Buzzers), we were real good and got upset in the semifinals of the playoffs. Then we were the young guys on the team. I had a chance to play with Greg for Team Canada East (in the World Under-18 tournament). It was a great honor. We won bronze. With ‘Ax,’ we played in the top prospects game together, too.”
D’Agostino’s abilities were clear early. Certainly, he needed some time to adjust, as any big, young defenseman does to the college level. But his adjustment was relatively quick. He had four goals and 14 assists his first year as Cornell made the NCAAs.
He upped his production to seven goals, and then eight goals and 20 points last year as the Big Red made a late run to the NCAA Regional final, losing 2-1 to eventual national runner-up Ferris State on a third-period goal that came right after Cornell failed to convert on a five-minute major power play.
Part of the goal this year for Cornell (6-3-2, 3-3-2 ECAC Hockey) has been getting those special teams back on track, and D’Agostino, a seventh-round pick of the Pittsburgh Penguins in the 2008 NHL draft, is a big part of that.
“He’s certainly a catalyst on the back end,” Cornell assistant coach Ben Syer said. “He’s a great kid that works extremely hard. He has aspirations to obviously play in Pittsburgh’s organization and at the highest level, and he’s not going to leave anything unturned to get to that goal. But also, the immediate goal is to have success in his senior year as a group.
“He’s a consistent player for us, but obviously we want to get to that second gear. Every time he’s on, he’s a noticeable and impactful player. On the power play, he’s great at creating offense and getting pucks down to the net. But the other part that goes unnoticed sometimes is how good he can be defensively. If he’s just breaking pucks out then sometimes that’s a great shift. And if he’s doing that consistently, we will get opportunities.”
While the special teams looked good early this season, and Cornell got off to a solid 3-0 start, problems started to creep in after that. The team went on a five-game tailspin and, suddenly, all of those expectations became more of a burden than a cause for excitement.
“I don’t think it has to do with being early (in the season),” D’Agostino said. “It’s not a technical thing; it’s not a systems thing. It’s about guys being ready to go from the get-go. We’ve played badly in the first periods and dug ourselves a hole. And it’s hard to fight out of the hole every single game.
“In college hockey there’s turnover every year, but we’ve been skating together (since August) and playing with most of the same lines in practice, day in and day out. That shouldn’t be an issue at this point.”
D’Agostino has been paired with freshman Reece Wilcox, a player cut from much the same mold. Whereas D’Agostino was a seventh-round pick, Wilcox was taken in the fifth round of last year’s draft by the Philadelphia Flyers. Both are 6-foot-2 and both are considered well-rounded.
“I think Reece is an awesome hockey player,” D’Agostino said. “He’s a great young kid. It’s quite the jump from junior, but we all had to do it. I was there. I’m just working with Reece getting adjusted in terms of moving quick up the ice. He’s done a great job so far and will only get better from here on out.”
Syer said D’Agostino has embraced the challenge of playing with Wilcox.
“Reece has similar offensive characteristics,” Syer said. “They feed off each other. We also use him in a lot of defensive roles, killing penalties. So both are responsible defensively.
“I don’t think (it hurts D’Agostino offensively). In some respects it’s maybe the other way. (Reece) holds Nick responsible defensively, (and) he’s at his best when he’s solid defensively and picks his spots. If he’s more conservative and conscious of Reece, that’s a good thing. ... He’s a fiery competitor there. He’s not afraid to compete with the best of them when it comes to challenges.”
But as a captain this year, D’Agostino has more responsibility than just helping bring Wilcox along — he has to be a catalyst for the whole roster.
“If we put it all together, I think the sky’s the limit,” D’Agostino said. “We really like our team. We have real deep group of forwards, real strong defense and Andy Iles (Ithaca, N.Y.) manning the net. But it’s putting it together and playing three full periods, and that’s something we’ve struggled with.
“We’re aware of the expectations and the hype, but it’s part of the job. It’s part of our responsibility to manage those expectations and not let it get to your head.”
This article originally appeared in the December 2012 issue of New York Hockey Journal.