Flames' Mangiapane caps best season yet with world championship MVP

Nick Paul scored in overtime as Canada defeated Finland 2-1 to win gold at the IIHF World Hockey Championship.

The first question Adam Henrique was asked in all his post-gold glory revolved around The Turnaround.

When, exactly, did the captain of Canada’s most unlikely world championship-winning team feel like the winds of change started blowing for a group that started 0-3?

“When Mang came in,” he said of Flames winger Andrew Mangiapane.

“I think Mang came in and added an element we needed at the right time. Him coming over was huge for our team and our team chemistry, and it seemed to click on the ice, which was big for us moving forward.”

As Henrique demonstrated, it’s impossible to talk about Canada’s storied journey in Latvia over the last few weeks without talking about the man credited for making it all possible.

The kid they call Mang.

The kid who was overlooked in the OHL Priority Draft, prompting him to prove himself as a 50-goal scorer with the Barrie Colts as a walk-on.

The kid who was passed over the first year he was eligible for the NHL draft before finally being selected in the sixth round the following year.

The kid who spent parts of three seasons in the AHL, followed by one in the NHL before he was finally given power play time with the Flames this season.

Yes, that’s the same undersized product of Bolton, Ont., who just took to the world stage for the first time in his life to demonstrate just how far work ethic can take you.

Team Canada poses with the trophy after winning the Ice Hockey World Championship final over Finland. (Sergei Grits/AP)

Despite his Italian heritage, the quiet, humble lad whose name translates into “Eat Bread” had never even been to Europe before, let alone the top of the world.

The closest he’d ever come to representing his country before this was when his parents bought him a Team Canada jersey for the Vancouver Olympics with the name "Crosby" on the back.

He was 14.

Yet there he was, 11 years later, lifting a crystal trophy as MVP of the world championship tourney he turned on a dime with his arrival three games in.

Scoring in his first international game to add instant chemistry to a line with Connor Brown and Henrique, Mangiapane went on to lead the tourney with seven goals, adding four assists as part of a series of must-win games he helped steer them through to Sunday’s final.

He was the overtime hero in a quarterfinal upset over Russia and he scored two more, including the game-winner, in the semifinal over the U.S.

It's not unusual for a late arrival to the worlds to become a difference-maker for a country, as several NHL superstars have done before.

What was different here was that Managiapane arrived as a little-known commodity who finished fourth in points on a bad Flames team.

Somehow, he became larger than life.

When Nick Paul completed a come-from-behind, 3-2 overtime victory over Finland Sunday in the empty Rigas Dome, teammate Maxime Comtois stood with his arm around Mangiapane as the PA announcer anointed the winger the obvious tourney MVP.

He was also the only Canadian player to be named a tournament all-star.

Yet, symbolic of just how under the radar Mangiapane has flown throughout his career, he wasn’t even asked by Team Canada officials to take to the podium for his thoughts on Zoom afterward.

No worries, as everyone else was happy to talk on his behalf.

“I just think we had a tough start because the team wasn’t together, but then we put the lines together and Mangiapane came over and it all came together,” said coach Gerard Gallant, whose club had to wait three games for No. 88 to complete his quarantine due to Calgary’s extended schedule.

“When Mangiapane came over it gave us a different level of confidence. He’s a great kid and he gave us a great spark.”

Flames fans witnessed Mangiapane’s growing confidence this year as the five-foot-10, 184-pound mucker finished with 18 goals, just one off the team lead.

Fifteen of those came at even-strength, tying him with the likes of Alex Ovechkin, Leon Draisaitl, Josh Anderson and Jonathan Huberdeau.

In an off-season that promises significant change in Calgary, he’s as close to untouchable as the team has as he was unquestionably the biggest success story of the season.

I asked Gallant what he knew about Mangiapane going into the tourney, and what he learned about him during it, and the pride of PEI beamed when talking about his team’s saviour.

“As an unemployed coach last year I watched a lot of hockey games and I'd seen him play quite a bit,” smiled Gallant. “I knew he was a good hockey player, good spark plug. I really didn’t think he was that type of goal scorer. He finished very well for us, he was a big spark plug for us and he’s a character, character kid.

“When you coach a kid for two weeks you get to know him really well and I thought that kid was outstanding, Every day he came to practice he worked hard. Every day when he played in the games he worked hard and competed. When you work hard and compete, and you’ve got some skill and scoring touch, that’s what happens. And that’s why he had such a great tournament."

Any coach who has ever coached him, including Dale Hawerchuk in Barrie, has always raved about his practice habits and dogged determination.

No one used the term spark plug to describe him as much as Gallant, but it’s fitting.

Perhaps the best word that can be used moving forward is world champion -- something Mangiapane helped 22 of his newest pals to become against significant odds.

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