They poured into the dressing room Tuesday morning, more with smooth faces than stubbly ones. What jumps out annually on the first day of Flyers Development Camp each June is not any flashy skating or surprise mastery of the endless stickhandling drills that takes place.
No, what jumps out is how young many of them look, as if their moms or dads will be waiting for them in the lobby or in their cars when it’s all done.
And then there are the veterans of these things. They’re not hard to spot either, because their physical maturity, one year after they were last here, jumps out at you, too. Isaac Ratliffe, an early 2017 second-round pick, has nicely filled out that spindly 6-6 frame of his. Morgan Frost, chosen a few spots ahead of him in that draft, has added an inch of height and a few pounds, too. Even 2018 first-round picks Joel Farabee and Jay O’Brien, so slight just a year ago, look more grown-up.
But none of them look as Felix Sandstrom does. And for good reason. He owns a full beard. He has a filled-out body. He was, both physically and literally, a man among boys.
This is Sandstrom’s fifth development camp, and, at 22, the Flyers third-round pick from the 2015 draft is already older than the Flyers’ projected starting goaltender for this season, Carter Hart.
There was a point not long ago, two camps ago, really, when it was thought that might be Sandstrom’s job by now. He was older, he was already playing in a professional league in Sweden and he seemed further along. But then came a perplexing stomach illness connected to a bout with mononucleosis that sidelined him for two months and affected his play when he returned. He was let go by one team, picked up by another, and ultimately relegated to third-string status.
Last season, Sandstrom, found himself in a backup role playing for HV71 of the Swedish Hockey League. An abdominal injury limited him, and he referenced some knee issues as well on Monday. But he still managed a 2.16 goals-against average over the 19 games he played, signed late with the Phantoms, and posted an impressive 40-save performance for them in his only start.
“In the beginning, it was kind of tough,” he said of last season. “Talking to the coaches, I found a way to keep working in practices. I think at one point, it came to me, how I should act and treat it. It felt way better afterwards. And I think that I played very solid afterwards, too.”
“I learned a lot about myself and that stuff. Could be some rough times here, too. I feel like last season I learned a lot and how to handle it. How I handle it best for myself.”
Sandstrom is expected to at least share goaltending duties with Phantoms veteran Alex Lyon this season. Lyon could give a course about handling the emotional ebbs and flows of the position, having spent more than half a season as a Flyer two years ago.
Lyon learned quickly not to pout and to embrace every situation, and has almost willed himself into becoming an appreciated asset within the organization.
He’s Mr. Charity and Mr. Community in Allentown, and he will be an awesome next mentor for Sandstrom, who already sounds a little like the guy he will probably share the pipes with.