Flyers prospects Travis Sanheim and Travis Konecny were among 30 players invited Tuesday to Hockey Canada’s selection camp for the 2016 World Junior Championships, to be held from Dec. 26 through Jan. 5 in Helsinki, Finland. The group of 30 will convene in Etobicoke, Ontario from Dec. 10-14.
Sanheim attended the camp last year but did not make the team, while this is Konecny’s first invitation. Last year’s team did include Samuel Morin, who helped the Canadians win the gold medal; Morin is now with the Phantoms.
“It’s one of the things I’ve always wanted to do,” said Konecny, who plies his trade for the OHL’s Ottawa 67s and stopped by to visit with the Flyers on Tuesday ahead of their game against the Senators. “Even last year, I got the opportunity to watch my best friend play in the World Juniors, and it got me hungry and working for this year. Now I have that opportunity.”
While sometimes the WJC flies under the radar in the United States except amongst the more die-hard hockey fans, it is an extremely big deal in Canada. Flyers general manager Ron Hextall says the high profile that the tournament brings, even in the years when it’s played in Europe, makes it a goal of a lot of young Canadian players.
“One way or another, it’s a great experience,” Hextall said. “If you grow up in Canada, you know the importance of it not only to Hockey Canada, but to the country. So it’s a huge stage for these kids, and hopefully they both make it. It’s a hard experience to replicate for a kid. It’s awesome. Hopefully they both make the team and play big roles.”
Sanheim has recorded seven goals and 17 assists for 24 points in 19 games this year for the Calgary Hitmen of the Western Hockey League. He returned to Calgary’s lineup last Friday after missing just over three weeks with an injury suffered back on November 3. Hextall said the Flyers have been pleased with his progress since being returned to junior during Flyers training camp in September.
“Travis probably didn’t have the greatest camp, and he’s gone back to Calgary and really done a good job,” Hextall said. “That’s exactly what you want to see from a young player rather than be disappointed he didn’t make the Flyers and go back and kind of mope or be disappointed for a while. He just put his work boots on and went back to work, and he’s had a really good year thus far. His defensive game has gotten a lot better.”
Konecny is leading the 67s in scoring with six goals and 33 assists for 39 points through 25 games, which is good for ninth in the OHL. A couple of those 33 assists have been highlight-reel plays that have rippled through the online hockey universe over the last couple weeks, and it sounded as if Hextall had seen some of them.
“He’s got a lot of work to do, but he’s a dynamic player,” Hextall said. “He makes things happen. He’s one of those special players that can make something happen out of nothing. They’re hard to find. It’s juniors and he’s got a lot of work to do, but he’s got the qualities in a player that we covet.”
Sanheim plays in Calgary with Flyers prospect Radel Fazleev, and they often look forward to playing against Ivan Provorov in the WHL. Similarly, Konecny is glad to have an opportunity to go to camp with Sanheim.
“I’ve been around Travis a couple times, been to a couple camps with him,” Konecny said. “It’s a lot of fun. It’s nice having a familiar face there.”