Flames' Andrew Mangiapane making a case for Team Canada roster spot

Andrew Mangiapane joined After Hours to discuss the Calgary Flames' play to start the season, potentially making Canada's Olympic team, reflecting on his journey from making the OHL's Barrie Colts, his relationship with Dale Hawerchuk and more.

CALGARY – As tired as the world is of Zoom calls, this was an online invite every Canadian kid would delight in logging in to.

A few weeks after receiving an unexpected call from Ron Francis, informing him he was on Team Canada’s long list of Olympic hopefuls, Andrew Mangiapane was recently summoned to a virtual team meeting.

Unlike most of these confabs, this was an enthusiastic gathering with a healthy showing of video engagement.

“I think most of them had their cameras on,” recalled the soft-spoken Flames winger, smiling as the names McDavid, Crosby, Point and Pietrangelo were rattled off.

“I’m just trying to keep it cool, obviously. Good players, right?”

Um, right.

Many of the planet’s very best.

If any of the assembled superstars didn’t recognize the tousle-haired kid from the Flames, well, they probably do now.

Opening the season with a team-leading eight goals his first 12 games, the 25-year-old has opened up even more eyes than the ones who watched him dominate as Canada’s gold-medal-winning MVP at last summer’s Worlds.

It’s been quite a ride of late for the junior walk-on star who waited through one draft, and the first six rounds of another, before being taken as an undersized long shot by the Flames in 2015.

Not much chance anyone else on the call had auditioned through parts of three AHL seasons to share this sacred screen, interacting with many of the game’s greats, talkin’ drugs and such.

“Yep, that’s what the Zoom call was about – just basically saying, ‘You can be drug-tested now, so don’t be doing any drugs or anything like that,’” chuckled Mangiapane, perhaps wondering what sort of illicit elixir someone would have had to be on a handful of years ago to believe this moment possible.

“(It was a) breakdown of what is going to happen, and when different lists will come out and where they are staying. Little things about Team Canada.”

Dare the 5-foot-10, 184-pound pepper-pot dream he could actually be staying there in Beijing alongside them come February?

“Obviously, my goal is to make the team,” said Mangiapane, balancing the long odds he faces with the can-do attitude required.

“Maybe I’m a dark horse and everything – there’s some pretty good players and options they can go with there. But I’m just trying to go out every game and play my game and play hard and, long shot, maybe I make the team.

“It’s an honour to just even be on that long list. I can’t let it affect me. All you can do is go play your game, play good, and whatever happens, happens.”

The Flames embark on a seven-game road trip Wednesday that will take the Flames through Toronto, minutes from his hometown of Bolton.

It is through games in Montreal (Thursday), Toronto (Friday) and Ottawa (Sunday) the eastern media will get a glimpse at why it’s not the craziest thing to believe the rapidly rising star could find his way on the sort of line that calls for his tenacious forechecking and dogged determination.

He’s got plenty of finish too, as his seven goals in seven World Championship games (not to mention his 13 goals in his last 16 NHL games) can attest.

A left shot who plays both wings, the third-line firecracker won’t allow himself to look at the list of lads ahead of him on the Olympic depth chart.

“No, no, no, just going out there and playing,” smiled the fan favourite, whose popularity was on display when a fan opened a pre-season game by tossing a loaf of bread on the ice in his honour. (As many might know, his last name means “eat bread” in Italian.)

“No point in thinking about it. I’m more focused on playing good here for Calgary and showing up and being consistent game-in and game-out, and maybe getting a chance in the end there.

“All those guys on the long list, I’m sure a few are locks, but I’m sure all those guys want to be on that final list.

“But it was an honour to get a call and say, ‘OK, wow, they’re actually looking at me.’ Because I was never selected to do anything with Team Canada, so the World Championships was my first time putting on the jersey and all that. So, to be in consideration after going from no World Juniors or any other invite is a real honour.”

Although still pegged with a middle-six assignment that sees him play under 15 minutes a night, including second-unit power-play minutes, he still manages to be the Flames' most dangerous net-front finisher.

His goal Tuesday against San Jose was a net-front jam-job that epitomized his pluckiness around the paint.

His boundless energy is such that he recently found himself going after the New York Rangers' Ryan Reaves after taking exception to the way the big bruiser hit him.

In his third full season with the Flames, he’s clearly comfortable with his surroundings.

Mangiapane credits his coming-out party in Latvia for helping with his solid start this season, upping a confidence level he’s been building for years.

“It was good to kind of go out there and showcase what I can do, and what I’ve got on a world stage,” said the former 51-goal scorer for the Barrie Colts, who hadn’t previously boarded a trans-Atlantic flight.

“I’ve never done that before. I just wanted to go out there and play. I was honoured to be there. We had success and we won. It was a great time being over there and winning.

“It just helps my game with confidence and I want to keep growing my game.”

So young is Mangiapane, he’s part of a generation that can’t necessarily peg exactly where he was when Sidney Crosby’s Golden Goal in 2010 marked Canada’s greatest Olympic hockey moment.

He was 13.

“I would probably have been in my family’s house there, with my dad, my sisters, my mom, around the TV,” he said, smiling.

“We probably jumped and screamed. Honestly, I don’t remember all that well. It was a pretty special time to be a Canadian.

“That’s why it’s such an honour to even be on that list, because of those great memories. Every Canadian wants to be playing on Team Canada.”

Some might just settle for a Zoom call with them.

Not Mangiapane.

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