Last winter Elkhorn’s Travis Sanheim enjoyed arguably his best individual season yet in the National Hockey League.
The 26-year-old Philadelphia Flyer received the Barry Ashbee Trophy for the team’s most outstanding defenceman, as selected by sportswriters and sportscasters. As well, the son of Kent and Shelly, Sanheim earned the Pelle Lindbergh Memorial Trophy as the Flyers’ most improved player, as selected by his teammates. Sanheim, who was also the team’s MIP in 2019, is the first two-time winner of the honour. Unfortunately, Sanheim’s strong season could not lift the 25-46-11 Flyers into the playoffs.
“It wasn’t the season our team wanted. Obviously disappointing,” he said. “For me personally, I had a bounce back season. A big part of that was not letting the team play dictate how I was playing. In the past, I’ve let my game slip as the team slipped away. We obviously had a lot of issues with injuries and other barriers that came along the way.
“I tried just not allowing that to affect my game and continued to push through. You got to be a leader and set a good example. I thought that I was able to do that over the course of the season.”
In his fifth NHL season, the smooth skating Sanheim scored seven goals and recorded 31 points in 80 games. That points total was just shy of his career-best 35 in 2018-2019. This past season Sanheim tied for tops on the Flyers’ blue line in points.
However, it was not just his offensive performance that made this a strong campaign for him. Sanheim set career highs in plus/minus (plus-9, the best on the team), shots, time on ice, blocked shots, hits, and takeaways. He led the team in the defensive point shares stat.
For as good a season that Sanheim had, Mike Yeo, who served as the Flyers’ interim head coach last season, believes there is more to come.
“There’s no reason to think that he cannot still grow in his game. He has the ability, he has the intelligence. … I think that he’s just going to continue to grow, getting stronger, becoming more physical,” Yeo was quoted as saying in am April 28 article in The Athletic. “I think that he’s seen the benefit of the work that he put in the summer and during the season. And I think that those habits will continue to grow. So to say what he’s capable of, I’m not sure, but I can tell you that he’s certainly a guy that I believe that you can win a Stanley Cup with in playing a very important role.”
Sanheim’s play in the regular season helped him earn a role on the Team Canada squad that won the silver medals at the 2022 International Ice Hockey Federation World Championship in Finland. He recorded a goal and four points in 10 games during the May event. He had a plus/minus of plus-7, which ranked him in the top 10 in the tournament.
It was not the first time that Sanheim has represented his country. The former Calgary Hitmen Western Hockey League standout competed for Canada West at the 2013 World U-17 Hockey Challenge. Sanheim helped Canada to the bronze medals at the 2014 IIHF World U18 Championships. He also played on the country’s 2016 IIHF World Junior Championship squad.
“Every time has been an awesome experience and something I’ll never forget,” Sanheim said. “Any chance that I get to do that I like to jump on board and do it to represent my country. It’s a really cool experience putting on that jersey and playing with all the guys that are from the same country.”
In Finland, Sanheim had the whole country cheering him on. In Philly, he appreciates the Flyers’ rabid fans.
“Obviously, an awesome fan base,” he said. “They care so much about their team. Whether you are winning or losing, you’re going to have their support. Obviously in tougher times, they’re a little bit harder on you, but I think that’s because they are such a good fan base and they’re hard on you and I think we need that at times. Hopefully, we can turn things around this season and I’m sure they’ll be right behind us.”
No matter whether things are going poorly or great, Sanheim knows he has support from back home.
“Coming from a small town and the close area that I’m in, just the amount of family and friends that are traveling to watch us play and watching me every night on TV … Obviously, I couldn’t have gotten to where I am without my family and friends who have pushed me along the way. I appreciate everything they’ve done.”