So much so that he must be considered the inside favourite to be named tournament MVP after tomorrow’s gold medal game between Canada and Finland.
Mangiapane’s rise to success both here and in the NHL is inspiration to anyone who appreciates how difficult it is for an underdog to overcome the odds and succeed. He grew up in Bolton, Ontario, just north of Toronto, and after going unnoticed in the OHL draft he signed with Barrie as a free agent.
In three years with the Colts he scored and then scored some more, and the 2014 NHL Entry Draft got him….nowhere. No team was interested, figuring he was too small and not strong enough for the NHL. A year later, the Calgary Flames took a chance on him, selecting him 166th overall. Not a great sign of confidence in the 5’10” 185 lb. forward, but something was better than nothing all the same.
Mangiapane was assigned to the Flames’s AHL farm team in Stockton, and in a year and a half he just continued to score. He was called up during the 2017/18 season, making his NHL debut on New Year’s Eve 2017. It wasn’t until 2019/20, however, that he was a full-time member of the Flames, and although he didn’t score as he had in junior – no one does – he did prove he could still put the puck in the net.
During this 2020/21 season, Mangiapane finished the regular season by scoring five goals in his last four games. He then flew over to Riga to quarantine, which was doubly painful because in addition to the isolation he had to watch his Canadian teammates start with three straight losses, the worst opening performance ever for a Team Canada at the Worlds or Olympics.
Finally, he was able to dress for Canada’s fourth game, against Norway, and his impact was immediate. Coach Gerard Gallant put him on the first line alongside captain Adam Henrique and Connor Brown, who had had a career year in Ottawa, and the three connected immediately.
“I think he really changes the dynamic of the team,” said U.S. head coach Jack Capuano. “Henrique and Brown are guys that I know pretty well, and it gives them a little bit tougher match-up for the defence. And with the wide ice I think he has really good speed, a knack for the net, and I think he added a little bit of a jolt to the team.”
Mangiapane scored what turned out to be the game-winning goal midway through the second period, and he kept on scoring. He had a goal in the next game against Kazakhstan and two goals and two assists against Italy. He was held to an assist against Finland and then had two goals, including the game winner, against ROC and then another game winner against the U.S. In all, seven goals, three game winners. More important, the team has taken that 0-3 start and won five of the next six games to advance most improbably to the gold-medal game.
“It’s crazy how we competed back,” Mangiapane said. “We’ve been the underdogs every single game, and we just keep proving people wrong. It’s like I said, it’s great to see from the guys, all the character, the battle levels. But we’re not done, and we’ve got one more game to take care of business here.”
How does he do it? Well, he doesn’t beat you with McDavid speed or with a Matthews-quality shot. What he does do well is go hard to the net, stick on the ice, ready for the puck at all times. He isn’t afraid of traffic, isn’t afraid to hit or be hit, and he is clever along the boards. Puck in the corner? He’s likely coming out with it.
“It’s been a crazy tournament,” Mangiapane said after the U.S. semi-finals game. “We started 0-and-3 as a team. Now we’re playing our best hockey; we’re riding that momentum. Got one more game to go. Great how we’re playing, great how we’re coming back and just playing the right way. It’s awesome to see from the group, but we gotta keep going.”
"He's a big piece for us," Cole Perfetti said of Mangiapane. "He comes in, and he's had a good year with Calgary, and slots into our first line, which adds to the depth of the team. Obviously, he's the kind of player who can find the back of the net. He's been the spark we've needed to get going. We're happy to have him."
One more game.