‘O Canada’: Flyers’ Carter Hart, Travis Sanheim and Martin Jones excited to play in western Canada for first time since 2019
“Being able to play in Canadian cities, hearing the Canadian anthem, it makes you feel like home,” Travis Sanheim said.
EDMONTON, Alberta — When Flyers defenseman Travis Sanheim takes the ice at Scotiabank Saddledome in Calgary, Alberta, for the team’s game against the Flames on Saturday, he won’t be skating on just another NHL rink.
That arena served as the foundation for his NHL aspirations while Sanheim played junior hockey for the Calgary Hitmen from 2013 through 2016. Sanheim’s career with the Hitmen, which included scoring a double-overtime winner in the 2015 Western Hockey League playoffs to send the team to the conference finals, was a family matter. His twin brother, Taylor, also played for the Hitmen for three seasons, two of which overlapped with Sanheim.
“We were fortunate enough to be able to play together,” Sanheim said. “I don’t think at the time we really realized that, but the chances of us suiting up in a junior sweater together is pretty unique. We enjoyed our time playing together.”
Now that the NHL has resumed international competition and invited fans back into arenas, Sanheim and the 10 other Canadian Flyers get to play in front of friends and family for the first time since 2019. Sanheim looks forward to having his relatives, including his parents, his sister, and brother, in attendance in Calgary.
“Obviously I miss playing with him,” Sanheim said. “I wish I could continue to keep playing with him, and for him to be able to come watch, it’s gonna be pretty special.”
The Flyers last played in Canada on Dec. 21, 2019, when they faced off against the Ottawa Senators, three months before the COVID-19 pandemic shut down play during the 2019-20 season. The 2020 Stanley Cup playoffs were later played in the Toronto bubble without spectators. During the 2020-21 season, the Flyers weren’t permitted to cross the border to play Canadian teams.
“That was tough in the last year where you don’t get to go back and see your family and friends,” said Flyers goalie Carter Hart, a native of Sherwood Park, Alberta. “Then with the border restrictions as well, they weren’t able to come down and see you also. Definitely tough in the last year.
“We’re all really looking forward to it, especially the guys that are from out west there, Vancouver, Manitoba, myself from Edmonton. For us to go back and play there in front of our family and friends and get to see them again, we’re all excited.”
Hart will get the start in net for the Flyers when they play the Edmonton Oilers on Wednesday night. The game marks Hart’s second NHL appearance in his hometown — his first came on Oct. 16, 2019, a 6-3 Oilers win.
The last time the Flyers were in Edmonton, Hart’s father, John, was out of town for work, and the goalie is hopeful that he’ll be able to make Wednesday night’s game despite being on the road for work again. However, Hart is excited to have one of his best childhood friends, Nolan Volcan, in attendance.
“All my friends come out and support, my family, and it’s always nice to see them and talk to them and hang out with them,” Hart said. “Find some time before the game. It’s nice we’re going a couple days early, so I’ll get some time to see my family and relax with them and catch up with them.”
The trip to Canada also presents the opportunity for players to indulge in Canadian delicacies that are difficult to come by in the U.S. From ketchup chips to Smarties, players from the U.S. generally get more excited about the Canadian treats than the Canadians do, according to Sanheim. But the one Canadian restaurant chain Hart enjoys the most — Boston Pizza — is off-limits on the trip.
“No, it’s junk food,” Hart said. “I won’t be eating that.”
The night after Hart starts in Edmonton, the Flyers will start another hometown goalie between the pipes against the Vancouver Canucks. Martin Jones, who grew up in North Vancouver, will get the start in the back-to-back.
Jones’ father, Harvey, was the vice president of construction for Canucks Sports and Entertainment for over 25 years and oversaw the construction of Rogers Arena. Growing up around the Canucks of the early 2000s, including Dan Cloutier, Markus Näslund, Todd Bertuzzi, Brendan Morisson, and Mattias Öhlund, gave Jones a glimpse into what it took to play in the NHL.
“Got to go to a lot of Canuck games growing up, which was unbelievable,” Jones said. “My peewee team got to do the super skills with the Canucks, so that was pretty cool. And just being around the rink, I got to go down to the locker room once in a while. Not during, while they were there, but just to kind of see what a professional arena and dressing room looks like and just be around it was cool as a kid.”
Not only will the Canucks game serve as a homecoming for Jones, where he’ll play in front of eight family members and friends, he has special ties to Calgary, too — like Sanheim, Jones played junior hockey for the Hitmen.
Both Sanheim and Jones cherish their memories of not only playing junior hockey in Calgary, but also of watching visiting NHL teams come through the Saddledome for morning skates. The thought of playing there on Thursday night, Sanheim said, conjures up plenty of memories from juniors.
“It’s gonna be cool again to be able to do that,” Sanheim said. “Have family come to the game. Have fans in the building. Being able to play in Canadian cities, hearing the Canadian anthem, it makes you feel like home.”