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Photo: Vince RappleyeaPhoto: Vince Rappleyea

#AHLOTB: Fire ignites Mangiapane to success

by Brandon Kisker | AHL On The Beat

Andrew Mangiapane’s mom called the Stockton Heat front office to purchase some tickets to attend their first Stockton Heat game.

Growing up in Sacramento, Mangiapane never had been to a hockey game before, and his entire family decided it was time to go to their first game, 45 minutes south in Stockton. They made signs and Mangiapane wore his number 27 soccer jersey to the game.

However, they were there for more than just the entertainment, they were there to watch Heat rookie forward Andrew Mangiapane.

“I thought I was the only [one named] Andrew Mangiapane and we had nearly the same middle name,” Stockton’s Mangiapane said. “Andrew was a great kid, and it was so cool to meet him and show him around the dressing room.”

But if you looked back at the history of how the Stockton forward got to this point in his career, a sixth round draft pick of the Calgary Flames in the 2015 NHL Entry Draft, ranking in the top five on his team in goals, assists and points, you’d certainly gain an appreciation for how hard he’s had to work to gain this opportunity.

Just four years ago, (Stockton’s) Mangiapane was playing Triple A hockey in Canada, was passed up in every major junior draft and was unsure of the future of his hockey career.

He was undersized. The term that gets thrown at so many players when compared to some of the competition. While most look and think that the small forward would get eaten alive by the bigger competition he’d face, Mangiapane still had people who were in his corner. Those people helped open a door.

“One of my high school teammates dads knew [Barrie Colts assistant coach] Todd Miller and he believed in me as well,” Mangiapane said. “He helped get me in touch with Todd and I was invited to a Barrie prospects camp.”

It was at that camp that Mangiapane impressed Miller with his play, so much so that Barrie head coach Dale Hawerchuk came and saw Mangiapane play. They extended him an invite to the Barrie Colts main camp and Mangiapane played well enough that they told him he was going to be staying.

“I was shocked then because I was just going to the camp to see if I had a chance to even play at this level,” Mangiapane explained. “When they said they liked me and they wanted me to play I was just shocked.”

However, it wasn’t going to be easy. Hawerchuk explained that Mangiapane would have to earn his ice time. When Mangiapane did find himself on the ice, he did find ways to make an impact. Apart from his feisty, competitive nature, he also managed to record 51 points in 68 games for the Colts during the regular season and added 7 points in 11 postseason games.

Ice time increase during the second year? Check.

It was year two that Mangiapane exploded offensively, posting 104 points in the OHL, tied for seventh best in the OHL behind names like Dylan Strome, Connor McDavid and two Barrie teammates in Joseph Blandisi and Kevin Labanc.

It would be that season that would catch the eye of the NHL. And eventually, it would be the Calgary Flames who would draft Mangiapane in the sixth round, 166th overall.

Of the nine players to score over 100 points in that season, three of them found themselves drafted outside of the first and second rounds. Those players, included 6-foot Blandisi to the Colorado Avalanche, 5-foot-11 Labanc to the San Jose Sharks and of course the 5-foot-10 Mangiapane to the Flames.

All Barrie forwards.

Maybe it was a competitive nature or his extreme skill but Mangiapane would repeat a 100+ point season the following year with Barrie, totaling 106 points, one of just seven players to do that in the OHL in 2015-16

Size didn’t matter to the Flames though as what caught their attention was the skillset of a player who had extreme offensive upside.

“When we drafted him, we drafted him as a skilled player as obviously there are very few players in the last number of years have had back-to-back 100-point seasons in juniors,” Heat general manager and Flames assistant GM Brad Pascall said. “Our guys knew his playing background and he hasn’t missed a step in his progression.”

Which made his arrival to the AHL this year an exciting one as Mangiapane entered his pro career with the Stockton Heat and stepped in immediately, playing with extremely talented guys like Linden Vey, Matt Frattin and AHL rookie goal scoring leader Mark Jankowski.

“I didn’t know what to expect in the AHL this year, it’s all new right now,” Mangiapane said. “I didn’t have any expectations coming in so I’m happy to have the success I’m having but there’s always room for improvement.”

It’s not at all surprising to the coach that found him in that camp in Wasage Beach, Ontario, a few years ago.

“He is a guy thats a dog after a bone and offensively he has always had that ability,” said Miller said. “He learned how to defend a lot more before he left here in Barrie, so I think that has helped him a lot in the AHL, but his speed is a big factor.”

Based on the start to this season, his coach in the AHL isn’t surprised either.

“I’ve been impressed with his ability to come in and elevate his play when put with good players,” Heat head coach Ryan Huska said. “He’s done that right from the beginning of the year and I think that says a lot about a player, when he’s got confidence to play with your top guys. It’s a player like that proving to people that he’s not been put in the wrong spot. That’s what we love about him, he’s a competitive guy, he wants the puck and he wants to be a difference maker for us.”

He’s done just that, posting 15 goals and 20 assists for 35 points through his first 58 games as a pro, and while there have been ups and downs along the way, he’s consistently been a top player for the team who needs him to be one of their top players.

But with success comes the eyes of others where once again the question becomes less about his skills and once again about his size.

“I think with smaller guys everyone always wonders how they’re going to do at the next step when the pace gets higher and guys get bigger, stronger and faster,” Huska said. “But one thing you can’t overlook is these guys have fought that battle along the way at every step. What he’s grown up with, I think it’s made him a better player and I think he’s been able to adjust quicker than many probably thought he would have.”

Size is something the Flames can deal with. Hear of a guy named Johnny Gaudreau? The Flames know how important he is to the big club, and knows that Mangiapane is vital to the success of not only the Heat this season, but also someone they’re very excited about.

“The thing we liked when we drafted him and still see to this day is his competitive nature and his skill level,” Pascall said. “He brings that every day to practice and to games and has a drive to want to continue to get better. I think that’s part of his DNA, to bring that competitiveness and drive to get better, and when combined with his skill, it equals out to a tremendous young prospect for us.”

So Mangiapane will continue to work on attaining his goal of making the NHL while continuing to play with that mentality of proving doubters wrong.

“I always felt growing up that there was always that disadvantage of being small and people will overlook you,” Mangiapane said. “You have to keep proving people wrong and there’s always going to be people that are going to say you’re too small, you’re too light, whatever it is; but you can’t let that stop you. People are going to put you down but you have to use that to fuel the fire.”

The fire still burns inside the prospect, as he continues to find success on the ice, and works off the ice to try and further his career.

Just weeks ago, in the Heat dressing room, Mangiapane was able to make a young fan out of a teenage soccer player with the same name. He showed him around to his stall, took him to see what kind of equipment he wears and what cardinal rule you can never break in a hockey locker room.

It’s still bizarre to the Heat forward that he had the chance to do that. He questions what could’ve been if it weren’t for that Colts camp. If it weren’t for Todd Miller. If it weren’t for his high school teammate’s father.

“You look back on it and it’s surreal to see where I came from to where I am now,” Mangiapane said. “I look back on it and it feels great to see how far I’ve come. Four or five years ago I was playing Midget Triple A, and I’d have never have thought that I’d be drafted by Calgary and playing for their farm team.”

Dreams do come true with a little hard work and some elbow grease. Despite the doubters, Mangiapane not only continues to prove he belongs, but that he probably doesn’t belong in this league, but rather the next, best league.

Mangiapane will have another set of doubters there, looking at his size compared to NHL defensemen.

Just fuel to Mangiapane’s fire.