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FLYIN' HIGH

Mangiapane's game really taking off - and the sky's the limit for hard-working, ultra-talented winger

by GEORGE JOHNSON @GJohnsonFlames / CalgaryFlames.com

He was most definitely, in bird-dog parlance, a "long-runway guy."

"Those are the guys who, when you're projecting, might take a little longer to get off the runway and up into the air,'' Flames assistant GM Craig Conroy is explaining out at Winsport on Saturday. 

"Smaller guys, usually. But guys who are 6-4, 6-5, whose skills or skating needs sharpening, too. Anyone might need a bit of extra work but you feel there's something special there.

"And sometimes they do.

"Other guys are just boom! Instant. But they're the hard ones to find.

"I remember our scouts at the draft were beating the table for Mang. So give them a ton of credit. They kept saying: 'Don't just look at his size. This is a guy who has an opportunity. He has a chance. A real chance.'

"I don't know how many times I heard that at the table. They were insistent.

"Whew! Good thing we listened."

Fresh off his first NHL three-point outing in a highly-charged, first-game-back post-holiday 5-1 pistol-whipping of those nefarious Edmonton Oilers, Andrew Mangiapane - along with linemates Matthew Tkachuk and Elias Lindholm - found himself the talk of the town.

He may be slight at 5-foot-10 and 184 lbs, but Mangiapane has a Doberman mentality - mixed in with some Greyhound.

"That's my game, being able to chase down pucks, trying to make their D turn the puck over and make a bad play,'' Mangiapane shrugs, post-practice.

"That's what I pride myself on. Hard work in the corners and everything like that."

Case in point: Mangiapane's mighty impressive helper on Tkachuk's 15th snipe of the campaign that staked the southern interlopers to an early 2-0 lead (after Mangiapane had opened scoring) they would never relinquish.

Giving up a full six inches and 37 pounds to Oiler D-man Darnell Nurse, Mangiapane relentlessly hunted down his quarry, pestering and prodding, frisking the puck away on the slightest of bobbles before holding the much bigger body off until Tkachuk arrived on scene.

 

Video: CGY@EDM: Mangiapane sets up Tkachuk in front

 

"Used to it, right?'' Mangiapane reckons. "Been going up against bigger, taller players my whole life. I was just trying to angle him. He cut me off, so I was just kinda shielding off, shielding off. Couldn't get really right to the net so I just turned up and saw Chucky coming through."

The recipient of the 48-hours-late-for-Christmas gift-wrapped present couldn't have been more appreciative.

"Mang saw the puck was bouncing and had a chance to get by Nurse there,'' praises Tkachuk. "Nurse had a step on him, a stick-length on him, the whole way but Mang got inside position on a guy twice his size, spins off and catches the other D looking.

"Then made a perfect pass.

"He's always first on the forecheck. He's got a lot of speed, creates a lot of space for himself and for us. When he playing the way he did yesterday, hard on pucks, making plays, big finish first shift, it's good for our team, good for our line."

Interim coach Geoff Ward also marvelled at the moment.

"He outraces a guy for a puck, out-battles him for it and then he's headsy enough to understand the ice is behind him, his support's going to be coming from behind, so he protects the puck and makes a nice pass.

"It shows all the things he can bring to the game.

"I think he's playing to his strengths. The bottom line for him is it's about work ethic first. The work ethic never wavers. And he plays with good structure.

"As has been talked about before, when those two things are evident in your game, skill can take over."

It's often said that there's a vast chasm between wondering and knowing.

"There's a step,'' says Conroy. "You hear it all the time: 'Everybody skates well here, everybody's stronger here. On and on.' Well, it might sound like a cliche but it's still true. Even coming from the American League - which is the second-best league in the world in my opinion - to here needs a big adjustment.

"It's just taken him some time to figure out how he fits in. He puts up unbelievable points in junior. Did it in the American League.

"And now he's starting to do the same here."

 

Video: CGY@EDM: Mangiapane nets feed to tally 11 seconds in

 

Since being joined to the fractious Tkachuk and ultra-efficient Lindholm, Mangiapane's game has grown by leaps and bounds.

With eight goals he's already tied his output of a year ago and those three points at Rexall pushed him to 15, one higher than he collected through 2018-2019.

Asked if this recent stretch could be considered his finest in an admittedly small NHL sample size, he nods.

"Yeah,'' was the instantaneous response. "I'd say so.

"My confidence is growing. You need confidence to play here."

So as 2020 beckons, look up. 

A certain long-runway guy is just now beginning to elevate from the tarmac, picking up ground speed, preparing to bust off into a bright, blue, cloudless horizon.

Eager, like the rest of us, to discover how high his optimum cruising altitude can possibly be.

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