The Pride of Estero, Austin Cangelosi Aims to be Difference Maker at BC

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October 24, 2013 by conteconfidential

It took Austin Cangelosi 50 seconds to make a lasting impression on the Conte Forum crowd.

The No. 6 Boston College men’s ice hockey team was in a scoreless deadlock with No. 2 Wisconsin after 10 minutes of play in the first period. That was when the freshman chased down a Badger in the corner and stole the puck. His hustle kept the play alive and led to his first collegiate goal, as Hayes later found him alone in the slot for the score.

On that same shift, Cangelosi teamed with Hayes again to score a textbook goal. On a two-on-one rush, Hayes drew the defender, leaving Cangelosi wide open to tap the puck in.

Just like that, BC was up 2-0, and Cangelosi had effectively set the tone for the rest of the game. “I wanted to get the team going, it was 0-0 at the time so anything to kind of get the spark to the team,” he said.

So far this season, freshmen like Cangelosi have been helping to spark the Eagles to victory. The class of 2017 was one of the most heavily anticipated in recent memory, with five NHL draft picks and one of the premier goaltending prospects for the 2014 draft. Many freshmen were expected to not only start right away, but make an immediate impact, and all seven skaters who have worked their way into the lineup have at least two points through the first three games.

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Cangelosi currently leads his classmates with four points (2g, 2a) in three games. (photo credit: Boston College Athletics)

Cangelosi came to BC with particularly high expectations after an electrifying junior career. While he fits the mold of the prototypical undersized BC forward who blows his opponents away with his speed and skill, he took an unusual path to the Heights, and he doesn’t take anything for granted because of it.

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Cangelosi was virtually predestined to excel in athletics. His mom and dad actually met on a tennis court. While Andy had success in tournaments over the years, Diane was the star in the relationship. She was so good that she was the number three singles player on the men’s tennis team at Farleigh-Dickinson University. Going back another generation, Andy’s father played baseball at Florida State University, and Diane’s father was a national champion in table tennis.

But Andy and Diane’s oldest son, JC, wanted to play hockey, and Austin naturally followed suit. “There are some genes in there as far as athletics, but nobody knew a thing about hockey,” Andy said. That didn’t stop the Cangelosis from enrolling both boys in a roller hockey program near their hometown of Hillsborough, N.J.

At six years old, Cangelosi got his first taste of hockey glory, winning a national championship with the Kendall Park Lumberjacks U-8 team. Then nine, JC was already giving ice hockey a try by playing in a local in-house league, but Austin didn’t seem too interested. “He didn’t like all the equipment,” Andy said, with a chuckle. “He said it took him too long to put all the stuff on.”

It wasn’t until the Cangelosi family moved to Estero, Fla. that Austin started to play organized ice hockey. Looking back on it, Austin wasn’t sure whether to call it “luck” or “a coincidence,” but there happened to be an ice rink only five minutes away from their new home. After visiting Germain Arena and meeting some of the coaches involved in the Junior Everblades Program, Andy and Diane signed both 10-year-old JC and seven-year-old Austin up.

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A card from when Cangelosi won a roller hockey national championship at age six. (photo courtesy of the Cangelosi family)

From the beginning, it was clear that Cangelosi was a special talent. Even back then, he was always one of the smallest players on the ice, but he still racked up points. “He could have gone end-to-end in any in-house game or even when he played travel,” said Lisa Jacobs, his in-house league and peewee coach. “He was just heads and shoulders above everyone.”

Cangelosi may have been one of the youngest players on the Junior Everblades Peewee AA team, but Jacobs still named him captain. It was more because of who he was than his skill level.

He was mature beyond his years, always the first one at the rink and the last to leave, always willing to play any role his coaches asked him to, always trying to make the players around him better. “There was always something special about Austin,” Jacobs said. “He’s got to know how gifted he is, but he just never seemed like that. He was just Austin, a pleasure to coach and a pleasure to be around.”

As much as Cangelosi enjoyed playing in the Junior Everblades program, teams on the east coast of Florida offered better competition and greater out-of-state travel. “At the time he was growing up, they were a little bit more serious on the east coast,” Andy said. So, over the years, Austin played for the Florida Junior Panthers out of Coral Springs and for the Golden Wolves out of Pembroke Pines, as well as the Junior Everblades.

The trip to the east coast was daunting and included a 104-mile stretch on I-75 South through the everglades. “It’s also known as Alligator Alley,” Andy said. “You can see the alligators in the rivers on the side of the road.” The round trip, if they were lucky and didn’t hit any traffic, was three hours and 30 minutes. But, as they watched Austin grow and develop, the countless hours they spent in the car didn’t matter so much. It was becoming clear that he had a chance to make it in hockey.

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Cangelosi also served as captain during his time in the Golden Wolves program. (photo courtesy of the Cangelosi family)

Florida ice hockey is starting to make inroads in prep and college hockey. This season, there are 20 Floridians on Division I teams. Fifteen squads have at least one Floridian on their roster, with Northeastern (3), Lake Superior State (2) and Yale (2) leading the way. As a sign of Florida’s increased relevance on the college hockey scene, 12 of the 20 are underclassmen.

That doesn’t mean Florida has suddenly become a hockey hot bed, attracting scores of scouts to mine its talent. Programs like the Junior Everblades, Golden Wolves and Florida Junior Panthers are great at developing young players. Cangelosi is a testament to that; all of the lessons that he learned under coaches like Jacobs is the foundation on which the rest of his success has been built.

To get noticed, though, Floridians with aspirations of playing in college and beyond have had to leave. “If Austin would have stayed here, that would have been it,” Andy said. “It can’t compete with northeast hockey. They try; the facilities down here are beautiful and obviously to go out after the game and be on the beach is terrific. But when it comes to grooming kids for the next level, they just don’t have the amount of talent down here to do it. That’s why we had to go.”

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JC left for the northeast first. In the fall of 2008, he traveled almost 1,500 miles up to Gill, Mass. to attend Northfield Mount Hermon. Even though he wasn’t looking forward to trading in his sandals for snow boots, he couldn’t pass up the opportunity to compete in the New England Prep School Hockey Conference, which is regularly scouted by colleges and even the NHL.

Austin joined JC at NMH a year later. The first few weeks were overwhelming. Not only was he away from home for the first time, he was finding that prep hockey wasn’t anything like travel hockey. There were more systems to learn, and the players, particularly the upperclassmen, were bigger and stronger than him. For the first time, he couldn’t just go end to end.

It also took some time to adjust to his new home ice. McCollum Ice Arena is a fairly unusual rink, half-indoors, half-outdoors. It has a roof, a front and a back but no sides, meaning that the players are exposed to the unforgiving Massachusetts winters, which wasn’t exactly something that Cangelosi was used to. “It was pretty wild,” Andy said. “JC and Austin went to a game once and their feet actually were frozen when they were sitting on the bench.”

With the support of his older brother and NMH head coach Tom Pratt, Austin settled into his new environment and began to thrive. Despite being one of only two freshmen on the roster, he became a fixture on the top line alongside JC. And, finally able to showcase his explosive speed and play-making abilities to a wider audience, Cangelosi led NMH in scoring with a gaudy 54 points (26g, 28a) in 33 games. He also helped eighth-seeded NMH to the New England prep playoffs finals.

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Cangelosi played for NMH for two seasons, notching 110 points (52g, 58a) in 61 games. (photo courtesy of the Cangelosi family)

People began to notice the undersized kid from Florida. When Boston College offered him a full scholarship at the end of his freshman year, Cangelosi couldn’t say no and verbally committed. At the time, BC’s top four scorers, Cam Atkinson, Brian Gibbons, Joe Whitney and Ben Smith, were 5-foot-11 or under. When Cangelosi watched the Eagles, he could see himself playing their up-tempo, highly-skilled game. “I’m not one of the biggest guys out there,” he said. “They’re notorious for having little guys in there, and I felt like I just fit the system.”

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After racking up 56 points (26g, 30a) in 28 games his sophomore year at NMH, Cangelosi felt it was time for him to go to juniors. The Youngstown Phantoms had selected him with the 42nd pick of the 2010 United States Hockey League Future’s Draft, and he thought that playing there for two years would best prepare him for the collegiate game.

It wasn’t an easy decision to make. From a hockey standpoint, it made sense, but his parents thought that staying in prep school would help him be academically ready for BC. They found a solution to that problem in the form of Ursuline High School, a Catholic school with a strong honors track, and decided to let him go.

In August, Andy got a call from Youngstown’s head coach and general manager, Curtis Carr. “Coach Carr called me up and said, ‘Look I’ve got some bad news and some good news. The good news is I was offered an assistant coaching position at Merrimack. The bad news is I’m not going to be at Youngstown,’” Andy said. “It’s always nice when you’re familiar with who the head coach is going to be. We didn’t know who the head coach would be, and I was concerned about that.”

A week later, the phone rang again. Anthony Noreen had just been named the Phantoms’ head coach, and he wanted to make sure Cangelosi was still on board. “He was the first person I called,” Noreen said in an earlier interview. “For the first two years of this program, we were near or at the bottom. Getting a special talent like Austin was key to turning things around.”

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Cangelosi totaled 123 points (50g, 73a) in 109 career games with the Youngstown Phantoms. He also netted a USHL Tier 1 record 11 shorthanded goals. (photo credit: Robert Bindler/Youngstown Phantoms)

Noreen got his man, who he has taken to calling a “program changer” because of the influence he had on the Phantoms during his two years with the team. In his rookie season, Cangelosi finished 10th in the USHL in scoring with 59 points (29g, 30a) in 53 games as Youngstown went 32-21-7 to earn its first playoff berth.

Type “Austin Cangelosi” into Google and one of the first things that comes up is a YouTube video with almost 700,000 hits. It’s from Youngstown’s first playoff game, where Cangelosi made headlines by netting a once-in-a-lifetime chip shot goal to lift the Phantoms to a 4-3 overtime win over Cedar Rapids.

Just as a Youngstown penalty expired, Cangelosi grabbed a turnover and started the rush. After chipping the puck over John Gilmour’s head, he beat the defenseman to the loose puck in front of the net and slid it past Jake Hildebrand on his backhand. To hear Cangelosi describe it, though, it sounds like a routine hockey play, not the number three Top Play on SportsCenter: “Really nothing went through my head. I was just trying to get off the rink and dump the puck. I saw the kid hit it with his hand and it dropped a little short of the net, and I thought I could beat the defenseman to the puck. I just whacked it, and it went in.”

In his second year, Cangelosi was voted a co-captain. As was the case with the Junior Everblades, he received the honor more because of his steady presence in the locker room and work ethic. “There’s so much more that makes him a program changer than the goals he scores,” Noreen said. “He’s a great leader, he does everything the right way, from workouts to on the ice. He works so hard. Everything that he gets, as far as goals, accolades, awards, he’s done more than earned.”

Cangelosi finished the 2012-13 regular season with his usual impressive numbers, placing 11th in the USHL with a team-best 64 points (21g, 43a) and tacking on seven points (2g, 5a) during the playoffs. For his efforts, he became the first Phantom to be voted All-USHL.

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Cangelosi has not forgotten his roller hockey roots. Whenever he’s home for the summer, he regularly teams with JC in roller hockey tournaments. (photo courtesy of the Cangelosi family)

Despite leaving Youngstown as the franchise leader in assists (73), points (123) and game-winning goals (6), to list only a few of his records, Cangelosi went undrafted in the NHL draft in his second, and final, year of eligibility. At 5-foot-6, getting drafted was never a guarantee, but he had shown that he could compete in America’s top junior league and watched similarly undersized players, like Taylor Cammarata, get picked. Even though Austin won’t admit it, Andy says he’s been using the snub as motivation. He wants to show all the NHL teams that passed on him that his size doesn’t matter and his Florida roots aren’t a weakness, but a large source of his strength.

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In the Jerry York era, BC has had nine All-Americans 5-foot-9 or under: Brian Gionta, Tony Voce, Ben Eaves, Ryan Shannon, Chris Collins, Nathan Gerbe, Cam Atkinson, Steven Whitney and Johnny Gaudreau. Cangelosi knows he’ll inevitably draw comparisons to these players. “It’s a lot to play up to, trying to fill those roles,” he said.

Making the jump to the next level is never easy. Going from the USHL to Division I is no exception. “The speed’s a lot faster, the guys are stronger, the speed of the game everyone thinks a lot faster so you have to be aware of what’s happening on the ice,” Cangelosi said. His learning curve is even steeper because he’s transitioning from his natural position of center to wing. “It’s definitely a little tough, especially on the boards,” he said. “I’ve been working on that in practice.”

So far, Cangelosi has always made the jump, and he set himself up for success in his first collegiate season this summer, going to the gym five days a week and religiously following the BC workout book to get stronger. Now, he regularly stays out on the ice after practice, working on stick-handling drills by himself or taking extra shots on goal, all so he can be the best that he can be and knows that hard work is the only way to get there. “He’s been waiting four years to get the opportunity to get on the ice at Boston College,” Andy said. “He realizes that opportunities like playing for Boston College don’t come often and he wants to really make the best of it.”

Making the best of it means only one thing to Cangelosi. Even though he’s had individual success wherever he’s gone, he’s always cared most about his teammates and has been willing to do anything, from blocking shots to mucking in the corners, to help the team win. And, asked what his goal is for his first collegiate season, he had a simple answer.

 “For our team to win the national championship.”

By Jen Dobias

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One thought on “The Pride of Estero, Austin Cangelosi Aims to be Difference Maker at BC

  1. […] The Pride of Estero, Austin Cangelosi Aims to be Difference Maker at BC (Conte Confidential)The card of Cangelosi as a six-year-old roller hockey national champion is now my favorite thing on the internet. […]

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