by Doug Plagens | AHL On The Beat Archive
Andrew Agozzino made his Lake Erie Monsters debut as a rookie on opening night of the 2012-13 American Hockey League season and did so in style.
Playing in just his third professional game, he scored a third period goal that proved to be the game-winner against a highly touted Oklahoma City squad that, due to the NHL lockout, boasted the likes of Jordan Eberle, Ryan Nugent-Hopkins, and Justin Schultz, and has just recently graced the cover of The Hockey News.
Agozzino, who started that season as the team’s fourth-line center, and an undrafted free agent on an AHL contract, has come a long way since that debut, when his wrist shot from the right circle beat Yann Danis
over the shoulder with 3:33 remaining in regulation and sent a Quicken Loans Arena crowd of over 12,000 into a frenzy.
Agozzino can recall that game-winning goal immediately.
“You look back and you think, if that goal didn’t happen, would things have turned out different? That was a long time ago, and I’ve come a long way as a player and a person since that game,” Agozzino said.
His coach can recall that game as well, as it was Dean Chynoweth
’s debut behind the Monsters bench.
“I remember that goal like it was yesterday because I had him on the fourth line playing center with [current Colorado Avalanche forward] Patrick Bordeleau. They ended up blocking a shot, went down and scored the game-winner. From that day forward, he slowly worked his way up from the fourth line, to the third, to the second, to the first,” Chynoweth said. “It’s a credit to him and his character. He comes from a great family, and it’s no coincidence.”
Fast-forward to this week. Agozzino is coming off a March in which he was the AHL’s player of the month. He registered 21 points last month, and no other AHL player had more than 15 points. He passed David
van der Gulik and moved into the top spot on the Monsters’ all-time goals list with a hat trick on March 29th in Charlotte. He’s also now the Monsters’ all-time leader in goals and assists, and is knocking on the door of a few other team records. The third-year pro also has his NHL debut under his belt; he suited up for the Colorado Avalanche on November 22nd against Carolina, and notched an assist.
“It’s pretty neat. It’s not something you go in looking to do and set, but at the end of the day, it’s neat to be a part of something like that,” said Agozzino about the milestones he has achieved, and not only Monsters milestones. He finished his Ontario Hockey League career as the Niagara IceDogs all-time scoring leader as well.
“In the last two months, the one thing that has stuck out is his grittiness and his determination. He has always had it, but he has taken it to another level. He can make plays, he can get pucks to the net, and he has a determination to get to loose pucks and the battles he wins,” Chynoweth said. “Andrew has been a leader since the day he got here. He’s an assistant captain here, he leads by example, and isn’t afraid to say something in the room if he has to.”
Through his progression, Agozzino has earned increased responsibilities each season, and even as he has developed from an under-the-radar rookie to the first Monsters’ All-Star starter in 2012-13, to a third-year professional and top-liner who plays in all situations and is set to at least share the Monsters points lead for a third straight season, one thing has been consistent in his mindset.
“It’s been staying hungry and staying positive. It’s tough when things don’t go your way and you don’t get the opportunity to get drafted and guys around you are, but it’s a long road and everyone has a different path to get to where they want to be,” Agozzino said. “You have to believe in yourself and trust your instincts. You have to go in knowing you belong; you can’t dip your toe in the water when you’re entering the AHL, or playing in your first NHL game. You have to go in and think with the mindset that you belong, and you’ll be fine.”
For Agozzino, there has always been a connection to Cleveland. He grew up visiting family in Northeast Ohio, and identified with Cleveland from the moment he arrived to begin his professional hockey career. He has always had supporters in the stands.
“There are always people at the game watching me. Whether it’s my parents who come down quite a bit, or family I have from Cleveland; to get to see them after games is always nice,” Agozzino said.
"[Agozzino] is treat to coach because he does everything you ask of him and more on the ice and off," Chynoweth said.
He has evolved into a fan favorite at The Q, and he says there’s one team goal that could put an exclamation point on this season.
“Since I’ve been here, we’ve never been to the playoffs, and guys are itching to play some more hockey," he said. "Every game is a playoff game for us right now, and we have been in that mentality for a while. It’s an exciting time, the guys are excited, and hopefully we can make a push."