Andrew Mangiapane was a full 15 years away from entering this world when his future Barrie Colts’ boss, the No. 1 pick of the 1981 NHL Entry Draft, was unveiled to Winnipeggers.
At the corner of Portage and Main, on the very spot the legendary Golden Jet, Bobby Hull, had signed to legitimize the fledgling World Hockey Association, no less.
And to pile on to already off-the-rails expectations, the 18-year-old Dale Hawerchuk was considered so indispensable to the future of the Jets’ franchise that he theatrically alighted from the back of a Brink’s armoured truck.
“Really?” laughs Mangiapane. “Well, he did score, what, 1,400 points and wind up in the Hall of Fame?
“So I guess he was worth it, huh?”
There may have been nothing so grand as a Brinks drop-off at the entrance to Markin McPhail Arena WinSport for Mangiapane for Thursday’s prospects’ testing, but Hawerchuk figures his pupil will sooner than later be money in the bank for the Calgary Flames.
“If he’s not (NHL) ready now,’’ reckons Hawerchuk, “he’s not far off.
“He’s one of those kids that always seems to find a way. Probably like (Johnny) Gaudreau.
“I remember when I was ready to sign him here in Barrie, he was pretty small and I said to him: ‘What do you think about playing in the OHL? Any worries with the size of these guys?’
“And he just looked at me, didn’t so much as blink, and said: ‘I’ve been dealing with that my whole life. I have no problem with it at all.’
“I think he relishes the challenge to beat ‘the bigger guy’ or the so-called ‘bigger name guy.’
“He’s got such anticipation and has a low centre of gravity so that what might look like a dead-heat for a puck, because of those two qualities, he gets there first.
“And there’s no stop. He keeps his feet going. He moves to make plays.”
A lingering groin issue kept Calgary’s sixth-round (166th overall) 2015 draft pick out of this summer’s development camp, so he’s itchin’ to hit the ice at full throttle when the Young Stars Tournament, circa 2016, opens Friday in Penticton, BC.
“What’s important for him, for any young player,’’ says Hawerchuk, “is having that confidence click in where you feel comfortable with the speed of the game. For rookies the first couple weeks are always tough, playing with the big boys.’’
The size issue is, for Mangiapane, a non-issue.
“I’ve been small my whole life, been facing bigger players my whole life,’’ he dismisses, shrugging. “So when I go up against them I don’t think ‘Geez, that guy is 6-foot-3!’, I just think ‘I’ve got to win this puck battle’ or ‘I’ve got to take this guy wide.’
“I don’t think of it as big or small. I think of it as what I have to do.
“My goal is to make the team, to earn a spot. Dale is a great coach and he’s helped me a lot. I owe it all to him.
“It was a little nerve-wracking at first, thinking ‘Wow! Dale Hawerchuk likes me and he wants me to play for him.’
“But I also felt a sense of accomplishment, too.”
Mangiapane’s degree of offensive panache is indisputable. Consecutive seasons over 100 points for the Colts, and 51 goals in only 59 starts last year.
“He has such an ability to take the puck with him,’’ marvels Barrie teammate and fellow Flames’ prospect, defenceman Rasmus Andersson. “He always gets the bounces. It’s true. And I don’t mean it like he’s just lucky.
“As a defenceman, you might think he’s lost the puck, you relax that one second and he’s behind you.
“The thing about Mangy, he’s strong. And getting stronger all the time. He’s at 185-190 (pounds) right now.
“Mangy’s ready for pro. He showed that in Penticton last year. I’m sure the transition will be smooth.”
Sensibly, and understandably, though, Flames’ general manager Brad Treliving has tried to tone down the hype.
“He’s shown to be a dynamic player at the junior level. But I want to temper expectations a little bit. This is that next step for him.
“Now you’re going up against bigger, stronger, faster. He’s going to have to learn how to play against that type of player. The good news is he’s a competitive kid and a smart kid.
“Now it’s about finding what he can get away with and can’t get away with it. These aren’t OHL defences. There’ll be a whole of oak trees out there now.
“People see the point totals and automatically think: ‘Oh, he’s gonna light it up.’ And God bless, I hope he does. But this is a different league and I think will all have to be cognizant of that.”
Hawerchuk is quick to point out that Mangiapane isn’t a one-dimensional player.
“Theo (Fleury) had a bit more of that nasty edge to him, but I do see some of him there. Mangiapane is one of those guys I had to get on a little bit and remind him: ‘Hey, look, you can’t fight every battle just ‘cause a guy gives you the extra shot here or there. You’ve just to take it sometimes. You can’t keep retaliating.’
“But he’s willing. He likes the fight of it.”
The fight is joined Friday in Penticton.
“These next couple weeks you’ve got to give it all,’’ says Mangiapane. “You can’t hold anything back if you want to play here.
“We’re all in the same situation.
“I’m no different.
“All you can do is your best - your very best - and make their decisions difficult as possible.”