Barrie’s Zach Magwood looked up to Calgary Flames prospect Andrew Mangiapane and his work ethic

By Gene Pereira, Special to Postmedia Network

Barrie Colts forward Zach Magwood brings the puck down the ice against the Ottawa 67’s at TD Place Arena in this file photo from late last season. Last season, the Cambridge native had 19 goals and 19 assists in 64 games with the Colts, who host the Erie Otters on Thursday night at the Barrie Molson Centre. ASHLEY FRASER/POSTMEDIA NETWORK FILES

Barrie Colts forward Zach Magwood brings the puck down the ice against the Ottawa 67’s at TD Place Arena in this file photo from late last season. Last season, the Cambridge native had 19 goals and 19 assists in 64 games with the Colts, who host the Erie Otters on Thursday night at the Barrie Molson Centre. ASHLEY FRASER/POSTMEDIA NETWORK FILES

A rookie forward who was trying to find his way in the Ontario Hockey League with the Barrie Colts, Zach Magwood didn’t have to look too far for inspiration during that 2015-16 season.

Every day at practice, every game there was teammate Andrew Mangiapane bringing it.

“Having played with him my first year, it definitely rubbed off a lot, just his worth ethic and how bad he wanted to make it to the next level,” the Colts veteran forward recalls of the Calgary Flames prospect.

Defying the odds had been nothing new for Mangiapane. First he was passed over in the OHL draft, before making the Colts as a walk-on.

Then the speedy scorer was passed over in the 2014 NHL Draft, but Mangiapane never let it stop him. The next season he scored 43 goals and put up 104 points, leading to Calgary selecting him in the sixth round of the 2015 NHL Draft.

Like Mangiapane, Magwood would go undrafted in his first year of draft eligibility last season.

Now the third-year Colt is hoping to follow in his former teammate’s steps.

Magwood knows how a big season this is for him.

“Not getting drafted didn’t stop (Mangiapane) from accomplishing what he wanted to accomplish. I definitely took away a lot from that,” said the 19-year-old, who is off to a solid start with four goals in eight games heading into Thursday night’s contest against the Erie Otters at the Barrie Molson Centre.

With two years under his belt, it’s easy to see Magwood is feeling a lot more comfortable in the OHL these days.

“Going into your third year, you have a lot more confidence than your first or even your second year,” he said. “It’s huge.

“You look at any (veteran) player like that, if you have years under your belt you’re going to try a bit more stuff, and you’re not going to be as nervous to make mistakes,” added Magwood, who had 19 goals and 19 assists in 64 games last season.

Coming off a rebuilding year, a young Colts team is looking to take that next step in its development. To do that, they need returning players such as Magwood to make the next step in their own development.

So far, so good for the sniper.

“He’s pushing the pace a lot more and you really see it in practice,” Colts assistant coach Todd Miller said. “He’s been a guy that has been kind of on the outside looking in with power-play minutes, where now he’s going to get that time and is deserving of that time.

“He’s got to take full advantage of it now. He’s working really hard. You watch him, he can fly,” Miller added. “He’s got great hands and a great shot. It’s just all about him being harder on everything and I think he’s finally realized that. Sometimes it takes a year or two.”

A scorer with strong puck-handling skills and an explosive shot, being “harder on things” is a necessity for Magwood, Miller said, especially if he wants to take that next step like San Jose Sharks forward Kevin Labanc and Mangiapane.

Both former Colts forwards were relentless in their pursuit of the puck and that’s what Miller has noticed more from Magwood this season.

“He’s got all the tools,” Miller said of Barrie’s sixth-round pick (113th overall) in the 2014 OHL Priority Selection. “It’s about being a bit harder on things. We noticed it in training camp that (Magwood) was finishing his checks more and being more of a dog on the bone on the puck, and that’s changed his game a little bit.

“Where before he would be there, but he was just off by a second or two. Where he could have had that like a Labanc or Mangiapane that stayed on pucks. He’s learning that now and he’s starting to get some numbers showing that.”

Magwood admits it’s something he set out to do since the opening day of camp this season.

“Just coming from that season last year, I think the biggest thing that I like to take away is just being a little bit more aggressive and using my speed a little bit more,” he said of one of his goals coming into this year.

That means going to those so-called “dirty areas” on the ice, where you know there’s a lot more contact; being that first guy to the puck and the guy that drives to the net.

“He had a tenancy to be away from those areas in the past,” Miller said. “He’s realizing he’s getting some production by going to those areas. Some guys don’t like to go to those areas, but some guys have made pretty good careers of going to those areas.

“You can have all the skill in the world, but if you’re not going to go to those areas you’re not going to get to the next level.”

The Colts have also been trying to get Magwood to shoot more. Armed with a quick, hard release, Magwood can be dangerous any time he gets the puck in the slot.

“We’re trying to get him to be a little bit more selfish,” Miller said. “He’s realizing that now, and even a few NHL scouts that have talked to us say, ‘Wow, where did this come from? He has more tenacity to his game.’

“He does need to shoot more, though. He’s got to be a bit more selfish with that puck and be confident in his skill set and know what it is. It’s a huge year for him.”

A scorer through minor hockey, Magwood is confident there’s a lot more of that in his game.

“I think every player loves to score,” said the five-foot-10, 188-pound Cambridge native. “I think sometimes I’ll try to make an extra move when I could shoot it.”

The Colts sit atop the Eastern Conference standings with a 5-2-0-1 record heading into Thursday night’s action against Erie.

A strong returning core, boasted by the key additions of Russian forwards Andrei Svechnikov and Alexey Lipanov, along with a strong rookie class has Magwood and his teammates believing they can take a giant step forward this season.

“At any point of the season, you want to keep rolling and keep your confidence up,” he said. “Us having a few wins under our belt it’s really helping us in that sense. We do have a lot of confidence in our team right now and we’re just going to keep rolling with it.”

Game time Thursday night is 7:30 p.m.

ICE CHIPS: The Colts have been carrying a couple of extra players on the roster and that’s a good thing with all the injuries and suspensions early on. Captain Justin Murray has been suspended indefinitely after receiving a game misconduct and five-minute checking to the head major late in last Thursday’s win over North Bay. Murray hasn’t played since, while Ben Hawerchuk is still serving his eight-game suspension. ... The Colts are also without forwards Jaden Peca and Luke Bignell who are out with unspecified injuries. Both aren’t expected to play this weekend and remain week-to-week. “(Peca’s) not as far away as we thought, so that’s a good thing,” Miller said. ... Barrie goaltenders Leo Lazarev and Christian Propp are off to a strong start in goal for Barrie. “I think it’s helped Propp by bringing Leo in,” Miller said. “I think it’s a good thing when you’ve got two guys who are willing to battle.” ... The Colts wrap up their weekend Saturday night when they host North Bay at the BMC.