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Hanowski, Agostino get chance to play in Pittsburgh

by Chris Adamski

PITTSBURGH -- Other than a passing introduction at a Pittsburgh Penguins development camp three summers back, Ben Hanowski and Kenny Agostino don't know each other.

The two, though, are forever linked.

Drafted a year apart by Pittsburgh in 2009 and '10, about all else Hanowski and Agostino had in common through March 27 was they remained property of the Penguins. The two forwards played for college teams in different conferences 1,300 miles apart; their paths never crossed during their collegiate careers.

"From what I've heard," Agostino said of Hanowski on Wednesday, "he's a great hockey player, and I'm sure he's a great kid. But I don't really know him."

"I don't know how to describe it, being part of a trade for a future Hall of Famer. It was kind of weird to see yourself be part of that deal -- and it's just kind of a coincidence that the Frozen Four is in Pittsburgh and that we were both fortunate enough to make it."
-- Ben Hanowski on playing Kenny Agostino in the Frozen Four

Because of a high-profile National Hockey League trade two weeks ago, much of the hockey world only knows of Hanowski and Agostino together. In a twist of fate, each will play the biggest game of his college career Thursday on the same Consol Energy Center ice that he had longed to play on in a Penguins uniform.

Agostino and Hanowski were the college prospects the Penguins packaged along with a first-round pick to the Calgary Flames in exchange for longtime captain and 500-goal scorer Jarome Iginla.

"I don't know how to describe it, being part of a trade for a future Hall of Famer," Hanowski said after practice Wednesday afternoon. "It was kind of weird to see yourself be part of that deal -- and it's just kind of a coincidence that the Frozen Four is in Pittsburgh and that we were both fortunate enough to make it."

Hanowski's St. Cloud State Huskies (25-15-1) will play No. 1-ranked Quinnipiac (29-7-5) in the semifinal nightcap after Agostino's Yale Bulldogs (20-12-3) face UMass Lowell (28-10-2) in the other semifinal at 4:30 p.m.

Should their teams win Thursday, Hanowski and Agostino will face each other Saturday night for the NCAA Championship.

To both, the task at hand has been their focus, rather than worrying about what happens after they turn pro.

"It's obviously a cool thing to be a part of," Agostino said of being involved in the Iginla trade. "Definitely a special thing, fun to enjoy for a day. But right now my focus is on Yale."

There's good reason for that. The Bulldogs are in the NCAA semifinals for the first time since 1952. St. Cloud State has never made it this far.

Agostino and Hanowski have played critical roles in their respective teams making it that far.

Agostino had two goals and an assist in two West Regional games. He was the first star of a 3-2 first-round upset of No. 1 seed Minnesota, scoring the game's first goal and assisting on Jesse Root's overtime winner.

For the season, Agostino, a 6-foot-1, 200-pound fifth-round pick in 2010, leads Yale in goals (17), assists (23) and points (40) in 35 games.

"Kenny's a great left winger, incredibly skilled, a great shot and great passer," Yale captain Andrew Miller said. "He works so hard, day-in and day-out, and he's excited to be at the rink. There's a great quality about him -- his personality and his work ethic."

Root said that if Agostino is seen watching TV, he's tuned to the NHL Network.

"He loves the game, and you can see that when he plays," Root said. "As a player, he's one of the best puck protectors I've ever played with."

Hanowski is second on St. Cloud State in goals with 17 and has 14 assists for 31 points in 36 games. The 6-foot-2, 195-pound forward, who was taken in the third round of the 2009 NHL Draft, has three goals and three assists in five postseason games for the Huskies.

Hanowski missed time because of concussion symptoms earlier this season; his return is part of what makes teammate Nick Jensen call him "one of the best leaders I've ever had on the team."

"You see a leader get knocked out and get a concussion and have a concussion problem and a few shoulder injuries," Jensen said. "You look at a guy after that and see what his character is like. Is he down off the ice, on the ice?

"There is not a nick in his armor, and he just kept dialing through it. It's what a leader does."

St. Cloud State coach Bob Motzko said Hanowski is "a fun-loving guy" -- and he looks the part now with the burgeoning beard and bushy, long dark hair he's grown this season. That disposition allowed Hanowski -- and his teammates -- to approach news of the Iginla trade with levity.

The morning after the trade, which was consummated after midnight, Motzko called all the players into a huddle during practice.

"I said, 'Anybody get traded overnight?'" Motzko said. "And the first guy laughing was Ben. He took it in stride."

Teammate Drew LeBlanc, a Hobey Baker Award finalist, deadpanned: "I'm jealous -- I kind of want to be traded for a Hall of Famer."

In the Yale locker room about an hour earlier Wednesday, teammates playfully snickered when a group of reporters approached Agostino.

"The guys have fun with him, but he has a great future; everyone knows that at this point," said teammate Antoine Laganiere, himself likely to be signed by an NHL team as a free agent after the tournament ends. "He's been great for us the past few years. A lot of people know about his size, and he's really strong. He finds the net -- the puck seems to always find him, because he always goes to the right areas to put the puck home."

Soon, just like Hanowski, Agostino figures to be doing it as a professional. They might not know each other too well yet, but they could be Flames teammates in the not-too-distant future.

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