Former foes together as Monsters rookies

by Doug Plagens || AHL On The Beat Archive

Hockey is a world all its own, and a small one. Three Lake Erie Monsters rookies, former opponents turned teammates, are living proof of that notion. But their routes weren’t the same to the Colorado Avalanche organization.

Mike Sgarbossa — last season’s scoring champion in the Ontario Hockey League as a member of the Sudbury Wolves — changed teams twice during his major junior career. After beginning with Barrie and spending parts of two seasons with Saginaw before heading to Sudbury, being traded from the San Jose Sharks organization to Colorado was easy to handle.

"It didn’t really mean too much because I was still playing on the same team [in Sudbury]," said Sgarbossa, who led the Monsters with 12 goals and 27 points at the American Hockey League’s holiday break. "It’s just another team I’m going to go to at the end of the season. I think it helped me. In San Jose, they have a deeper roster of a lot of older players. In Colorado, they have a younger team."

The possibility for forward Mitchell Heard to end up in a Monsters uniform was apparent the moment the 20-year-old was selected by Colorado in the second round of last June’s NHL Entry Draft. Heard, whose OHL time was spent with the Plymouth Whalers, said of the NHL draft, "It was a pretty exciting day. I didn’t expect to go that high. I was just hoping to get selected. Coming into a young organization is a big help to me and I’m just looking forward to being a part of all the success [Colorado] has had."

Unlike Sgarbossa and Heard, the Monsters other rookie forward out of the OHL is Andrew Agozzino, who was not a part of the Colorado pipeline when the summer began. Agozzino, who spent five seasons with the Niagara IceDogs and finished his major junior career with OHL over-ager of the year honors, was not drafted, and latched on as a free agent.

"I had a mindset going into my over-age year of trying to have a good year and land a free agent contract. In the summer, Lake Erie contacted me with an offer for an AHL deal. I was just excited to get something and get an opportunity at the pro level and prove that I belong," said Agozzino, who was just behind Sgarbossa with 11 goals at the holiday break.

With all three being OHL alumni, they recognized their common bond when camp began.

"Sgarbossa and I trained a bit in the summer doing some skating, but Heard and I had never met until camp," Agozzino said. "Just coming from the same league you have a common knowledge of one another, and it’s easy to carry a conversation when you first meet somebody like that."

"Mike’s a talented forward — leading scorer in our league last year — and Agozzino is the all-time point getter for Niagara," said Heard. "So coming in with these guys, even though you’re the same age, you kind of look up to them, and learn things and try to better your game."

"It was definitely great to see those guys here," Sgarbossa said. "They’re great players and I think they’re going to have long careers in pro hockey. I played with Heard in the Subway Series and played against Agozzino a lot."

On having not just the aforementioned trio of rookies, but others as well, including two rookies in net and others up front and on the blueline, Monsters head coach Dean Chynoweth says the youth sets the table for one of his favorite parts of being a coach.

"I can tell you from a coaching standpoint it is a lot of fun when you have young guys that are passionate about the game, that care but still have a lot to learn," Chynoweth said. "That’s the fun part of coaching; trying to help them get better to eventually see their dream come true of getting to the NHL."