Flames’ Mangiapane goes from uncertain future to Olympic contention
The Zoom windows populated on Andrew Mangiapane’s screen and he couldn’t believe some of the names that were a part of this call.
This video conference featuring some of the NHL’s biggest names wasn’t a dream Mangiapane was experiencing. He was really a part of a meeting with the likes of Sidney Crosby, Connor McDavid, Alex Pietrangelo and others who are in contention for an Olympic roster spot with Team Canada.
“That was pretty cool, being on a call with those top players in the league and the world. You’re kind of sitting there with them,” the 25-year-old Mangiapane told NBC Sports last week. “There’s still a lot of work to be done to make that team. I still have to keep performing and playing good, but it was nice getting acknowledged a little bit for the hard work and success that I’ve been having.”
Mangiapane’s name being connected to Canada’s Olympic team was not something he or many in the hockey world expected entering this season. But after scoring 15 goals (14 on the road) in 22 games with the Calgary Flames, he’s played his way into the conversation.
It was a bumpy road for Mangiapane to reach this point, however. It was one that was originally leading to a future that didn’t include the NHL. Now the path that he’s taken see him as a top-five goal scorer in the league.
Even though smaller players have excelled in the NHL for decades, the label is still used by some — read: dinosaurs — to knock a player’s total package. That was what almost derailed Mangiapane’s dreams as he was approaching junior hockey age. He was passed over in the Ontario Hockey League priority draft and was fully prepared to go the NCAA route to get his degree and take it from there.
“I didn’t even know I had a future in this sport,” the Ontario native said. “I was just more playing hockey and hoping to get a [NCAA] scholarship and go to school because that’s what I was always told. ‘You’re a smaller player, just go to school, get your degree.’ Hockey was kind of second fiddle.”
Mangiapane’s path to the NHL was put back on course when Barrie Colts head coach and Hockey Hall of Famer Dale Hawerchuk expressed interest in bringing the forward on board.
“He taught me a lot. He gave me an opportunity when no one else would,” Mangiapane said. “One thing he always said was work hard. It’s so cliche, but he was saying you’re a smaller player, work hard, keep getting better every off-season. He was a coach that let your offensive creativity come out in the O-zone. He was okay with you making plays and he really wanted you to grow and always wanted you to do your best with whatever you did. He wanted you to succeed. He always wanted you to be the best that you could be. I owe him a lot. I don’t know where I’d be without Dale.”
After scoring 24 goals and recording 51 points in his first year in Barrie, Mangiapane attended the 2014 NHL Draft in Philadelphia hoping to hear his name called. He sat with Hawerchuk inside Wells Fargo Center and listened to 210 names, including teammates Aaron Ekblad (No. 1), Brendan Lemieux (31), and Kevin Labanc (171), announced, but not his own.
[Full 2022 men’s and women’s Olympic schedules]
Being passed over put an enormous chip on Mangiapane’s shoulders and he tore up the OHL the following season with 43 goals and 104 points. He was back at the 2015 NHL Draft in Florida with confidence that he’d done enough to warrant being selected. Hawerchuk was again with him, but had to leave for a prior engagement just before the Flames picked Mangiapane 166th overall in the sixth round.
Despite being a draft pick, the chip did not leave Mangiapane’s shoulder for his final year in junior hockey. In 59 games he scored 51 goals and registered 106 points for the Colts. He had proven to himself his future could include the NHL after all.
“In my eyes I thought I was a good enough player to get drafted and obviously that’s your goal as a teenager,” Mangiapane said. “When I wasn’t picked I was upset by it, but I used it as energy for me and used it as fuel for fire. It was, again, I wasn’t picked in the OHL, wasn’t picked in the NHL, so let’s keep proving people wrong. You’re small, undersized, yes, but you’ve got to come back and work hard and out-battle, out-compete all those bigger guys, and I’ve been playing against them my whole life. It wasn’t anything new, but I just wanted to go there and really improve myself in what I can do and show other people.”
The production continued as Mangiapane got his first taste of professional hockey. He scored 41 goals in AHL Stockton over two seasons before making his NHL debut on New Year’s Eve 2017. The following season he started in the minors before getting a regular opportunity and earning a roster spot with the Flames.
Making a mark at Worlds
Between the 2019-20 and 2020-21 NHL seasons, Mangiapane posted 35 goals and 64 points in 124 games. Following last season he earned an invite to play for Canada at the 2021 IIHF World Championship.
Due to the Flames’ late end to the regular season, Mangiapane arrived in Riga, Latvia after the tournament started and was forced to quarantine in his hotel room. By the time he was available to play Canada had lost its first three games and the chances of staying in the tournament were slim.
Mangiapane entered the Canada lineup and instantly had a positive affect. He netted the go-ahead goal in his first game against Norway then scored three more and assisted on three others over his next two games. He saved his two most important performances for later in the tournament with an overtime winner over ROC and two goals during a semifinal win over the United States.
[Olympic men’s roster projections: U.S. / Canada]
The tournament would end with Canada topping Finland for gold and Mangiapane finishing with seven goals and 11 points, earning him tournament Most Valuable Player honors and a spot on the All-Star Team. Head coach Gerald Gallant called him a “difference maker” and said he gave the team a much-needed “spark” after exiting quarantine.
Before Latvia, Mangiapane had never been invited to a Hockey Canada camp at any level. There was no way he could turn down their invite.
“I wanted to just do good for my country,” he said. “It was tough early on going 0-3, sitting there watching in my room when I’m questioning as to why I even came out here, we’re going to be out before I can even play a game. I was a little angry there, but it was funny how it all came together. I’m just trying to take that, playing well there, being on that whole world stage and at the start of this season just try to play with that confidence and that swagger and have that ability to make plays.”
A confident start to the season
Two strong seasons in Calgary, followed by an MVP performance internationally gave Mangiapane a huge boost heading into the 2021-22 NHL season.
“Just playing with confidence and being an everyday player and starting to feel confident in the league,” he said. “I think that really goes a long way in just being comfortable with your surroundings, your coaching staff, the players, the management. It’s been good this year. Playing with confidence is huge in this league.”
Mangiapane started this season with seven goals in his first six games and failed to record at least a point in only six of the Flames’ first 19 games. Confidence helps, and those around him know that there’s more to come.
“Just kind of scratching the surface of what he can be,” said teammate Matthew Tkachuk, “and starting to show the hockey world that he is one of the best in the NHL.”