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THE UNDERDOG

Andrew Mangiapane had the cards stacked against him to make the NHL - but he's played a winning hand and just keeps getting better

by RYAN DITTRICK @ryandittrick / CalgaryFlames.com

His heart was never in question.

His chances, though, were always in doubt.

There once was a time when size - or a lack thereof - was the end-all, be-all. 'Too small, move along.' 

Andrew Mangiapane heard it, over and over. 

But he never let that stop him. 

"It's almost natural for me to play with a chip on my shoulder, (considering) where I came from," Mangiapane said Tuesday. "I've always been doubted.

"So, every time I step onto that ice, I try to work my hardest."

Mangiapane wasn't drafted into the OHL, but willed his way onto the Barrie Colts roster as a walk-on in 2013. He set the league ablaze, firing back-to-back, 100-plus-point campaigns, and looked to be the next big thing to sprout from the Dale Hawerchuk-led outfit. 

But at the time, not even that was enough to earn the praise of the scouting world. 

The Flames, though, are thankful for that - scooping the now-23-year-old up in the sixth round, 166th overall, in the deep, 2015 Draft. 

A full year after he was eligible. 

Now he's getting top-six minutes and is a fixture in the team's offensive attack.

"I always looked up to Martin St. Louis," Mangiapane said. "He was a smaller guy, so I figured if he was a smaller guy playing in the NHL, why can't I? He was my inspiration, a guy I looked up to.

"If you don't get drafted, it's not the end of the world."

Turns out, it was really just the beginning. 

Mangiapane arrives at the quarter mark this year on a 31-point pace over 82 games. 

But that number is quickly on the rise.

He's always had the hands, but in this - his first full year at hockey's top level - he's beginning to round out and tap into the boundless offensive potential he's always had.

Mangiapane has three points (1G, 2A) in his last five games, applying his craft the only way he knows how. The 5-foot-10, 184-lb. winger is relentless on the forecheck, battling wildly out of his weight class with a dogged pursuit of the puck carrier, leaning on defenders to win back possession, or deliver an unsuspectingly hard hit to help grind the opposition down over time.

Considering his past, none of this comes as a surprise to the head coach. 

Snarl and sandpaper have always been a part of his game.

 

Video: "Almost natural to play with chip on my shoulder"

 

"Mangy has a lot of tenacity to him and he plays with a lot of pace," said head coach Bill Peters. "He's a competitive guy. He's been an underdog, basically, his whole career going through the Ontario Hockey League and now into the NHL. 

"A lot of doubters, right? 

"He proves people wrong as he goes, and now he's getting a real good opportunity and is taking advantage of it."

Mangiapane has played there in spurts, but was put back on the second line at the start of this current, four-game homestand. In the first three games, the trio has played more than 30 minutes of even-strength hockey together, and the numbers are mighty impressive.

As a unit, Mangiapane, Mikael Backlund and Matthew Tkachuk have controlled 59.10% (39-27) of the shot attempts, 63.64% of both the regular (21-12) and high-danger (7-4) scoring chances, all the while having only a 42.86 offensive zone-start percentage - meaning the bulk of their shifts are beginning in neutral ice or the defensive zone. 

With the minutes the play, no other line has had that kind of defensive responsibility. 

Success, either, in transitioning the puck, 200 feet. 

"He's not the biggest guy out there, but he plays big," Tkachuk said. "He always gets in on the puck first and it seems like he has the puck a ton. For him, at his size, to be as tenacious as he is, [his ability to] hound pucks and create a ton of offence... I mean, he's only getting better. 

"At the start of the year, I played with him for the first time and it was a bit of a feeling out (process), the first couple games. Then, he played with us the one game against LA and we clicked seamlessly. They put us back together a couple games ago, and we've been feeling really good."

 

 

Indeed, Mangiapane's addition has given that line a different look to it. But it wouldn't have been possible without the rapid growth in his game.

It's the kind of maturation you see in players turning the corner, for keeps.

"He's hanging onto pucks; he's not forcing plays," Peters said. "Usually when you play with guys that are more established than you, you're thinking about giving them the puck all the time. 

"Now, he's not afraid to hang onto it. He doesn't have to defer and pass every time. 

"If the right play is to make a pass, he will, but if he needs to keep it and attack the net himself, he will."

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