MONTREAL - While hardly a household name yet, Matt D'Agostini is making waves during the Bulldogs' playoff run this spring. But Hamilton fans would be wise to not get too attached to the scrappy forward whose days in Steel Town could be numbered if he keeps this up.
Despite being in his first AHL season, the 20-year-old winger made his first pro playoff goal a memorable one by blasting a slapshot past Manitoba's Drew McIntyre for the game-winner in a 3-2 win over the Moose Sunday night that staked the 'Dogs to a 2-0 series lead.
D'Agostini may have a modest four points in eight playoff games for the Bulldogs, but his contributions couldn't have come at a better time. Before sealing the deal against the Moose, D'Agostini had already helped set up Mikhail Grabovski's thrilling double overtime goal in Game 3 of their the opening round series against Rochester and assisted on the winner in Hamilton's crucial Game 5 win over the Americans. The Bulldogs are also 4-0 when D'Agostini's name has appeared up on the scoresheet during these playoffs.
"The speed of the game and the size of these guys took a little getting used to at first, but I ended up getting the hang of it," admitted D'Agostini, selected in the sixth round, 190th overall, by the Canadiens at the 2005 NHL Entry Draft. "Coming in here from the OHL and having to face grown men was a definite change, though. Let me put it this way, you won't find any 16-year-olds scared to go into the corners at this level."
The former standout with the Guelph Storm has gotten every opportunity to shine from Hamilton head coach Don Lever.
"Don has been a huge help to me this year," said D'Agostini, who posted 49 points as a rookie with his 21 goals ranking second on the Bulldogs. "He's given me all kinds of ice-time in every possible situation. He kept me so busy that I didn't really have time to get nervous this season."
D'Agostini's support system doesn't end there. Even the man behind his becoming a part of the Habs family, Canadiens Director of Player Recruitment and Development Trevor Timmins, has checked in on Matt this season.
"Trevor talked to me few times about some of the things I should be working on," D'Agostini said. "It's a good feeling to know the Canadiens are looking out for me and to know that they're watching."
The team may be far from done watching D'Agostini and the Bulldogs, who seem poised for their deepest playoff run since reaching the Calder Cup Final in 2003.
"I felt all season long that we had a solid core of players ready to pay the price to win at this time of year," said D'Agostini, who led the Bulldogs with five game-winning goals during the regular season. "We have lot of guys who can put the puck in the net and we can hurt you in many different ways. I just hope we can keep this thing going."
Already up 2-0 thanks to a pair of wins over the division-leading Moose in Manitoba, the Bulldogs return to the cozy confines of Copps Coliseum for Game 3 Tuesday night.
Manny Almela is a writer for canadiens.com