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By George Johnson -

As a noted scourge of goaltenders in his era, Dale Hawerchuk can be counted something of an authority on predatory intuition.

"I watched his goal the other night," the Barrie Colts' boss is saying of former protégé Andrew Mangiapane's recent snipe at Vancouver. "He saw the turnover happening quick.

"Before you knew it, he was backing into open ice to give his guy an option.

"A lot of players in that situation will keep skating in their line until the puck is totally turned over and then when they try to go to the hole it isn't there anymore.

"But guys like Andrew, guys with that anticipation, those instincts, are seeing it happening a couple of seconds before it actually does."

An instinct, naturally, that a scorer of 518 goals over a 16-season, 1,409-point, Hall of Fame-worthy career in the top flight is acutely familiar with.

Even at 50, long-retired from active duty, Magiapane recalls the No.-1 overall pick/1982 Calder Trophy winner being pretty nifty.

"Oh, yeah," he says, amused. "He'd be out there in practice, fooling around, go in on the goalie, give a few head fakes, open his blade a little bit and just flick the wrists.

"A rocket, bar-down.

"He'd be laughing and the goalie'd be like: 'What just happened?'

"But I guess when you've done everything he has …

"Once you've got it, you've got it, right?"

Right. And while Mangiapane isn't presumptuous enough to as much as hint that he's got it yet - not near - he's begun making significant inroads in getting there.

These days, his stock very much on the rise, he finds himself manning the left flank on the Flames' newly-christened, increasingly-influential DAG Line, alongside savvy Derek Ryan and truculent Garnet Hathaway.

Arriving in Barrie as an under-sized long-shot to stick with the OHL Colts in 2013 at age 17, such intoxicating notoriety seemed a galaxy or two away.

"I remember when we first decided we'd keep him," recalls Hawerchuk, who along with a certain Finnish Flash and a one-of-a-kind Golden Jet ranks shoulder-to-shoulder-to-shoulder as the greatest-ever Winnipeg Jets. "He was pretty small back then, so I asked him point-blank: 'Do you think you're going to be able to handle the physicality of the OHL?' And his answer was great, just what we wanted to hear: 'I've been dealing with this my whole life.'

"He didn't even blink.

"Nothing new, right?

"Well, he made our club and started on the fourth line. Within a month or so he was on one of the top two lines."

Five years after the meeting, having hustled to Calgary for his son's NHL bow along with wife Patricia and daughters Caitlin and Lauren on January 31, 2017, Peter Mangiapane recalled the impact those years on the shores of Kempenfelt Bay had on his boy's development.

"Here are 30 prospects, all in line, waiting to make the team because it was already mostly set," reminisced dad. "They also had draft picks to look at it.

"And the first name Dale calls out is: 'Andrew Mangiapane.' There were guys 6-4, 6-5 towering over him and I remember him peeking around the wall and pointing to himself, like: 'Me?!'

"After that, he worked his way on and up. That's how it all kinda really started."

The debts owed Hawerchuk and the Barrie organization, the beneficiary admits, are deep, and lasting.

"Honestly, that's where my hockey career started," acknowledges Mangipane. "Nobody was giving me a chance, looking at me. I'd been passed up in the OHL draft. Too small, I guess.

"Dale saw me and said: 'We're going to take a chance on this guy.' He didn't have to. He believed in me. He had faith in me.

"I've got to thank him, thank the organization.

"Those three years in Barrie I kept growing as a player, learning each and every day.

"And that's what's brought me to where I am today."

That first season netted 51 points and a spot on the OHL First All-Rookie Team. In Year 2, Mangiapane ran amok, piling up 104 points, followed by 106 as an 18-year-old.

The breakout second major-junior turn prompted the Flames to take a flier and select Mangiapane in the sixth round, 166th overall, at the entry draft held in the BB&T Center in Sunrise, Florida.

During his Barrie stay, Mangiapane developed a bordering-on-kinetic competitive liaison with current San Jose Sharks' right-winger Kevin Labanc - as Justin Scott, Mike Blandisi and Julius Nattinen took turns at centre.

The one kid from Bolton, Ont., and the other from Brooklyn, N.Y., hit it off famously.

"Those two together, man, they used to drive defensemen absolutely nuts,'' reminisces Hawerchuk, the memory enough to elicit a soft, spontaneous chuckle. "Just a couple of hound-dogs. If they didn't outright steal the puck, they tipped it or hustled it loose or created a situation where it'd be turned over.

"And they scored in bunches. A lot of times they'd score 1, 2, 3 goals, bang!, in a row. In the blink of an eye. The other team didn't have time to realize what hit them.

"Put together a couple dynamic guys like that and it's double the ammunition."

The Labanc-Maniapane friendship, forged during a key developmental phase for both, endures, even if they do find themselves embroiled in differing camps of a fierce division/conference rivalry these days.

"It just clicked, on and off the ice,'' says Mangiapane. "I didn't have a car that first year so he'd always pick me up to go to school, for practices, games. We'd have lunch together. Hang out together. We were almost neighbours, lived a couple minutes apart.

"He was like a brother to me.

"Then our chemistry kept growing on the ice through the years."

Like Mangipane, Labanc was a late pick, 171st by the Sharks in 2014, and also spent grooming time in the minors. His influence has continued to grow since landing at the SAP Centre to stay, from 20 points to 40 and now, this year, 52.

He sees his friend's trajectory trending in the same direction.

"It's awesome,'' says Labanc. "We're good buds. We complemented each other. We moved the puck so well together. We worked for each other.

"His first couple of years he was in the AHL but even so, I always knew that he was a good player and if he got the chance to play in the NHL, he'd take it, he'd prove himself, and he's doing that right now.

"A real good guy, too.

"I remember in Barrie, too, he came into camp and nobody expected him to make the team. The next thing you know he's got a contract.

"Kinda the same thing's happening in Calgary right now. He's always proving people wrong."

The two pals are set to squabble again Sunday in San Jose as the regular-season thunders towards the finish line.

"I'm pretty sure he'll be thinking of chirps on the flight down here,"acknowledges Labanc.

"That's always going to be there. That's part of being friends and also being competitive.

"We stay in touch. We have lunch together if we're in Calgary or they're in San Jose. We're still really close friends. And we both want to keep it that way."

Having taken the quantum leap into Jr. A with panache, Mangiapane used his pro acclimatization period in Stockton to further hone the skills.

"It's a big adjustment from minor hockey into the junior level but the junior level to the NHL is HUGE," reminds Hawerchuk. "I was first pick overall, right, and I remember those first couple weeks in Winnipeg thinking: 'Geez, I don't want to be the first pick overall not to make it …'

"That's how big of an adjustment it is. You can't be awestruck but it's tough.

"When he first came up, watching him, he was hesitant, just a second or two late on everything. You're still good - and there's nothing wrong with being responsible defensively, you want the coaches to trust that side of your game - but now you can see he feels like he can be more aggressive in his thinking and his movements and still recover if he needs to.

"I talked to him last summer, told him: 'Hey, man. Just go grab it. You're as good as those guys.'

"He needs to play a fast game. When he plays at pace, he thinks quicker than most guys."

That lightning-quick situational processing ability isn't lost on his playmates.

"As he's gotten more comfortable with the league, with us, with his role, his hockey skills have been allowed more and more room to shine,'' applauds Ryan. "Speedy, smart, skilled player who makes pretty good reads, isn't shy about getting in on the forecheck or scared about venturing into the hard areas of the ice.

"He's not just a perimeter player. Mang adds a lot of facets to a line."

Also, more and more, to a team harbouring lofty springtime-into-summer ambitions.

"He's just a great kid," praises Hawerchuk. "One of those easygoing guys everyone takes a shine to when he was with us.

"I'm sure it's the same way in Calgary.

"Watching him now, he looks like he did playing junior. A dog after a bone on pucks. If he doesn't get it, he forces the other guy to make a poor decision and he reacts off that quickly.

"And he's so competitive. He gets hit hard sometimes, his helmet goes crooked, he flips it back straight and away he goes again. You may knock him down but he's getting back up.

"I love it.

"It's great to see him finding a role, settling in, with the Flames.

"Proud of him."


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