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'IT'S BEEN SURREAL'

Mangiapane playing a starring role as Canada goes for gold

by RYAN DITTRICK @ryandittrick / CalgaryFlames.com

The dish? Sublime.

But, no, we're not talking about the Latvian-made grey peas and bacon, potato pancakes, or - a personal favourite - parastās karbonādes.

Sadly, those delectable offerings are off-limits in the World Championship bubble.

That savory feed from Troy Stecher, though? Andrew Mangiapane devoured that in a heartbeat.

"It was absolutely crazy what he did there," Mangiapane laughed from his hotel room in Riga. "I told him never to do that again because it made me too nervous.

"I gave it to him in the slot there and I thought, 'OK, you're going to shoot this, you're going to shoot this.' But he held off and made those moves, and I'm glad he did.

"It was an unreal play by him and a great pass. I had the easy part, tapping it in.

"It was crazy that he pulled that off. At game speed, too."

Mangiapane, who made a strong play to enter the zone before dishing off to Stecher in the high slot, converted the return feed after his teammate made a beautiful, between-the-legs move to shake the defenders and open up a seam.

Stationed at the far post with his cue in a shooting position, Mangiapane buried it to give the underdog Canadians a 2-1 victory over the powerhouse Russians.

 

 

"It was a huge, huge win," Mangiapane said. "We didn't start off the tournament as well as we would have liked, but you can tell, we're really trending in the right direction now. The way we battled back in the third to push it to overtime and then win there, it was awesome. Being the underdog like that, we're definitely into the next one with a lot of confidence."

It was the kind of goal that will loop on the international highlight reels for years to come.

But more importantly, it's given Mangiapane and Team Canada a legitimate shot at winning this whole thing.

The red and white got off to a wretched, 0-and-3 start, where a sputtering offence was to blame. But once Mangiapane - a late arrival due to the sporadic May calendar - arrived overseas and cleared quarantine nearly a week into the tournament, Canada has been on some kind of heater, winning four of five since.

Mangiapane, meanwhile, is tied for fifth in tournament scoring with five goals and nine points in only five games. Everyone ahead of him has played either two or three games more than him because of the earlier delay.

The points are a nice bonus, but Mangiapane is still relishing the pinch-me moments that come along with it.

This being the first time he's ever donned the maple leaf in any capacity, the act of pulling that iconic sweater over his head is like nothing he's ever experienced.

"It's been surreal," Mangiapane said. "There are a lot of good guys here on this team and it's been pretty easy to gel with everyone.

"I never would have thought that I would be able to put on that Canadian sweater.

"Even when I was in younger, I thought maybe I might get selected there at one point, but obviously I didn't. At that point, you never know if you'll get that chance again.

"Thankfully, I have. I'm so honoured to be here and play for this team."

 

 

The adventure was initially supposed to include his pal Dillon Dube, but No. 29 suffered a concussion in the last game of the Flames campaign and derailed that plan.

That, admittedly, has been tough for Mangiapane to grapple with, as he was hoping to share these once-in-a-lifetime moments with some of his good friends and longtime teammates. But the group has been extremely welcoming and has made life easy for the 25-year-old's first-ever European Vacation.

"The bubble here is pretty strict and there isn't a whole lot to do outside of being at the rink, but it's been good to get to know all the guys," Mangiapane said. "Everybody here is awesome and all the guys are so nice and personable.

"Unlike the NHL bubble last year, there really isn't like an outside area for us to hang out in. But Team Canada has taken us out for a few dinners at some private restaurants and that's been a great opportunity for us to bond as a group.

"Inside the bubble, it's pretty much what you'd expect. You've got your own room, the meal room, and you travel back and forth between those and the arena."

 

 

They say that food is the universal language. So, with all that mealtime, are you sure you haven't been able to squeeze in any Latvian delicacies?

"Nope, none of that," Mangiapane laughed.

To be clear: It isn't so much a 'rule' as it is maintaining the players' comfort level. Athletes, after all, are creatures are habit, and their scientifically refined diets are not to be trifled with, especially on game days.

"We've had steak, a couple burgers, some fish. The usual," Mangiapane said. "It's basically a big buffet where you can have pretty much anything that you want and get a little taste. But I haven't been able to try any of the local stuff.

"Yet, anyway," he adds with a chuckle.

Well, whatever the fuel, the Canadian cocktail appears to be working.

Next up for Mangiapane and the rest of the homegrown heroes is a date with fellow Flame Connor Mackey and the United States, who enter the medal-round matchup with seven straight wins in their back pocket.

The winner will move on to Sunday's gold-medal tilt, while the loser will play either Finland or Germany for bronze.

Buckle up.

"I can't take it easy on Mackey, so I'm going to be going for him, of course," Mangiapane laughed. "No, it should be a great game.

"Canada, U.S. - it's one of the greatest rivalries in sports. We're all competitive guys and that's why we come to a tournament like this, to play these games - for the emotion and the competitiveness behind it.

"These are the ones you look forward to.

"It's basically a win-or-go-home type of scenario, and we don't want to be playing in that bronze-medal game.

"We want the gold.

"It should be lots of fun and I can't wait for it."

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