After getting passed over in the 2020 Ontario Hockey League Priority Selection, Sault native Calem Mangone used it as motivation.
That motivation was noticed by the Saginaw Spirit, who selected the 16-year-old in the 2021 OHL U18 draft earlier this summer.
“My motivation was as high as it has ever been for sure,” Mangone said about being passed over in the draft in 2020. “I was always thinking about the teams passing on me and proving them wrong next year and in the future.”
“We challenged him, we pushed him every day at practice,” Soo Jr. Greyhounds coach Jamie Henderson said. “He’s just an unbelievable young man. He’s super skilled, but the biggest thing with Calem is that he has such a strong desire to make the highest level possible. He’s a kid I will never doubt.”
Henderson has always had high praise for Mangone.
“Last year at the draft, I called all the players, the drafted ones and the undrafted ones and Calem said ‘Hendo, nothing’s going to stop me,” Henderson said in an interview after Saginaw selected Mangone in the OHL’s U18 draft.
“He’s just one of those kids you root for,” Henderson added. “He had an unbelievable summer and true to his word, he’s not letting anything stop him. I think he probably would have liked to have made the jump to junior hockey (last summer), but he just used this U18 season, despite it’s challenges, to get better every day.”
Mangone called getting drafted by the Spirit “remarkable.”
“It was a dream come true,” Mangone added. “Playing in the OHL has been my dream since day one and I always wanted to play there.”
“What really sparked our interest this year and really ramped it up was, we were watching a lot of video of (Cooper) Foster and (Alex) Pharand playing each other up in the Sault and when we were watching that video, Calem kept jumping out,” Saginaw general manager Dave Drinkill said, adding that Mangone’s game showed an improvement over the previous year.
A skilled, fast, creative winger, Mangone’s play continually stood out for Drinkill.
“The way Jamie teaches them to play is kind of like us, it’s a lot of puck possession and movement in the offensive end and guys not just wasting shots from bad angles, trying to look for that better option,” Drinkill said. “He seems to have the puck on his stick all the time in the offensive zone, swinging around going low to high. Every time you watch a shift, he makes something happen and was creative with the puck and that’s exactly what we’re looking for here.”
Drinkill is confident that Mangone’s skill fits the Spirit style well.
“The way we play in Saginaw with a puck-possession style, the want to make plays, that creativeness with the puck in the offensive end, the want to find trailers and make plays through traffic, (Mangone) fit that style,” Drinkill added. “As we kept watching more video on them, we found ourselves watching three players, not just Pharand and Foster.”
Drinkill added that Mangone is “a great kid from a great family.”
“Cam Baber knows him and spoke really highly of him,” Drinkill added.
Asked about Baber, Mangone said he’s learned a lot from the 20-year-old forward.
“I’m really close with Cam,” Mangone said. “He teaches me a lot. We talk a lot about everything and what I can be better at as a player. I skate with the pros (locally during the summer) and he does too and he teaches me a lot about certain drills and where to shoot the puck in certain places on the ice. He’s really helpful in my development.”
Skating with professional players locally during the summer like Pittsburgh Penguins forward Bryan Rust was also a big help for Mangone.
“When you see Bryan Rust out there, you’re going to learn something from him in how he works so hard in practice,” Mangone said. “There’s never a time in practice when he’s not going 100 per cent. I’ve definitely learned things like how to win battles with just your stick and shooting the puck. He’s a great player to model your game after.”
To have success at the OHL level, Drinkill said Mangone needs to “bring whatever he’s been doing to our level and get adjusted to the way we play and the way our league is.”
“You have to move pucks quicker, you have to jump into holes quicker, all those types of things that players have to go through,” Drinkill added. “A player like him, with his skillset and his mind for wanting to make plays in traffic, it will be an easier adjustment for him than it is for other players because there are other players coming out of minor hockey that are maybe 6’3” already, they’re used to bullying their way to the net or getting into traffic a lot easier. Smaller players growing up have to be more cerebral and creative with their ways of creating offence and he definitely has that.”
Ahead of camp, Mangone said he looked to improve his first three strides
“Definitely my three hard strides, my acceleration rate,” Mangone said. “If I lose the puck I want to backcheck quick with three hard strides to get back or in a battle or race for the puck, I want to have those first three quick strides to get to the puck first.”
“There’s a tremendous amount of opportunity,” Drinkill said for young players entering training camp with the Spirit. “If you want your seat at the table, it’s definitely up for grabs.”
In preparation for training camp, Mangone spent time working out with local players Aidan Wright, who played college hockey at Lake Superior State, and Michael Schug, who played Canadian college hockey at Queen’s University following a junior career that saw him play locally with the Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League’s Soo Thunderbirds and the Ontario Junior Hockey League’s Kingston Voyageurs.
“I work out five to six days a week,” Mangone said, adding that lower-body workouts with Wright have been the norm to work on explosiveness and stretching as well.