Photo credit: The Toronto Marlies
By Steve Sears
For Flanders native and National Hockey League forward, Kenny Agostino, there is absolutely no comparison.
“My favorite – favorite – spot is…I was obsessed with Flanders Bagels. North Jersey residents always pride ourselves on how good our bagels are, and the Taylor ham, egg and cheese sandwiches at Flanders Bagels are still the best Taylor ham, egg and cheese sandwiches I’ve ever had.”
Case closed per Agostino, who has shared in 29 of Mount Olive’s 150 years. And he has a message for the township: “Happy Birthday! Cheers to 150 more.”
Agostino has been in the NHL for six seasons since signing a two-year contract with the Calgary Flames in 2014. After initially being drafted by the Pittsburgh Penguins, he has played for the Flames, St. Louis Blues, Boston Bruins, Montreal Canadians, and the New Jersey Devils. He currently plays for Toronto Marlies of the American Hockey League, an affiliate of the NHL’s Toronto Maple Leafs.
His memories of his childhood in town are fond. “I was a travel hockey player for the majority of my childhood, and we played out of Mennen Arena in Morristown for the most part. In terms of growing up in Mount Olive, I played Little League baseball, we played at Turkey Brook (Park), and my brothers were more into playing baseball then I was. I remember them having double headers at Turkey Brook, me throwing a softball with the brothers with some of the other kids on the team.” Agostino and his family also frequented the Flanders town pool. “My sister was a lifeguard there, so it was kind of like a whole family thing.”
Growing up, Agostino was a New York Rangers fan, and although young at the time it happened, he now watches videos of the clubs 1993-94 Stanley Cup win, and his favorite players were Mark Messier and Brian Leetch. Agostino played for the New Jersey Devils minor hockey club at the 2005 Quebec International Pee-Wee Hockey Tournament. “From New Jersey, to play in that special event, was really special. I remember my mom came up with me. So, I played for them (the Devils) when I was 12 or 13, and I got to play with the real one (NHL Version) a couple of years ago, so that was pretty cool.”
Agostino and his twin brothers, Davis and Trevor, played high school hockey for Delbarton School in Morristown. After his senior season, when he scored 50 goals and tallied 83 points, Agostino was the school’s all-time leading scorer with a total of 261 points, a record he still holds. He was a three-time, First-Team All-State selection three years in a row by the Star-Ledger, who also tabbed him New Jersey High School Player of the Year as a junior and senior. “It was very humbling,” he says of the honors. “I don’t think it’s something I appreciated until later. I had a very good relationship with Bruce Shatel; he’s still the Head Coach of Delbarton hockey. And I do think I was the only hockey player to do it back-to-back years. Those years at Delbarton, we were actually a national powerhouse; we were up there with the Brick (High School) team of the ‘90s, which was supposed to be the best team of all time. I’d put my tenure there (at Delbarton) as one of the best hockey teams in history.” The club won a state title three consecutive seasons, and the third was when Agostino shared ice time with his brothers. “To win a state title with my brothers, it was special for my whole family. When you’re a travel hockey family, and as close a family as we are, you share all these experiences together. So that was really special that year.”
The Pittsburgh Penguins recognized his talent and drafted him in the fifth round (pick # 140) in the 2010 NHL Entry Draft. However, he had committed to play Ivy League hockey with the Yale Bulldogs, so to New Haven, Connecticut he went.
At Yale, he had a successful four years. In January 2011 he became the third freshman in Yale hockey history to record a hat-trick and, in another contest, also scored three goals and had two assists in a 10 -3 triumph over Holy Cross. The five total points in that game equaled a school record. He finished with 10 goals in 2010–11, increased that to 14 goals as sophomore, and exploded in his junior year, tallying 17 goals in 37 games. During that junior season, he led the Yale Bulldogs to a 4–0 defeat over Quinnipiac for the NCAA hockey title – a first NCAA crown for the school in any sport.
However, as he and his team prepared for that 2013 Frozen Four NCAA tourney, he learned that his rights had been traded by Pittsburgh to the Calgary Flames. He considered forgoing his senior year, but instead returned to the Bulldogs. “It was really special on and off the ice my four years there. Obviously, my junior year was a very special season. Winning the first Division 1 national championship, being in the Frozen Four – growing up, everyone watched the Frozen Four – so it was a really incredible thing to be a part of.” He then further reflects. “I remember every state championship in high school, and I would put winning the national championship (with Yale) up there as my greatest hockey memory ever. You’re playing with your best friends and living with your teammates in college is a special time in your life. You’re so close to your teammates, its really like a family. ”
Agostino made his National Hockey League debut on March 21, 2014. His first professional goal came in a 2 -1 win over the Florida Panthers two weeks later. “I’m never going to forget my first NHL goal. I’ve had a lot of great memories as a pro.” His most productive campaign was in 2018-19, when he played 63 games, 36 for Montreal, 27 for New Jersey. For the home state Devils, he scored four goals and had nine assists.
And he thanks his dad, who was the one who introduced and nurtured his love for the sport he now plays professionally. “I really think – and my dad can’t even skate – that during that Ranger’s Stanley Cup run, it solidified his love for hockey. He was always a fan growing up, but I think that’s what helped him get his sons into it,” Agostino states with gratitude.
Agostino’s parents now live in Basking Ridge, but he still returns home for Sunday dinners. And, he wants all of Mount Olive to know that his family, whom he describes as “a big Italian family,” still are true foodies, and all those childhood eatery excursions in Mount Olive live well in his memory – and are not limited to just Flanders Bagels. “We would go to The After (Char-Broil Grill & Ice Cream),” he recalls, “a big summer spot. I remember my dad and mom taking us for ice cream on a cool, summer night there. Unreal grilled cheese and milk shakes, too.”
Kenny Agostino, Mount Olive has a table ready for your next visit.