Felix Sandstrom stood there surrounded by a pack of reporters and cameras pointed at him after the first on-ice session of the Flyers’ development camp in Voorhees, New Jersey.
This time around, Sandstrom wasn’t the other goalie in camp, even if, in a way, he still was.
Sandstrom answered question after question about what happened in 2017-18.
Was it an abdominal injury? No, stomach issues.
Did he require surgery? He did not.
Was it even an injury? It wasn’t.
Instead, what plagued Sandstrom last season was an illness in his throat and stomach connected to the mononucleosis that he battled during his draft year in 2014-15.
“It was tough, but I learned a lot,” Sandstrom said. “You get stronger in the tougher times. I think I grew as a person. I learned a lot about myself, how I handle stuff and how I should handle stuff.”
Times have changed. During last summer’s development camp, Sandstrom sat at his stall and answered questions from a handful of reporters while the rest of the pack was with Carter Hart.
The Flyers have a goalie problem. Don’t stop if you’ve heard that before. You have. They have too many or too few depending on your worldview. But everyone’s waiting for Hart to solve it.
Hart has become somewhat of a legend in Delaware Valley, kind of like Bigfoot, except Hart has better hair. Flyers fans soon will see firsthand what Hart can do. He turns pro in 2018-19.
It’s easy to lump Sandstrom and Hart together, and it’s even easier after last season to forget about Sandstorm. Last July, there was talk about the two being the Flyers’ future tandem.
Now? Sandstrom is almost an afterthought when it comes to the goaltending picture.
At least from the outside.
“Sometimes with the way the world is today,” Flyers general manager Ron Hextall said, “people talk about one person and not another person, especially at that position. We all know there’s only one in the net so you only need one. So people talk about one. We’re very high on Felix. He’s a real competitor. He’s a really hard worker. He’s a hungry hockey player right now.”
While it’s true Sandstrom had a difficult 2017-18, it’s unfair to say he took a step back without heavily prefacing it with the circumstances — he missed two months because of the illness.
On the surface, the numbers dipped but not by much if we look at save percentage. Sandstrom played a total of 18 games between three teams — Brynäs IF and HV71 in the SHL and IK Oskarshamn on a loan to Allsvenskan — and had a combined .900 save percentage. But if we look at the save percentage in the SHL, Sandstrom posted a .904 save percentage in 11 games. In 22 games with Brynäs IF in 2016-17, he had a .908 save percentage.
That’s not to say Sandstrom did not struggle. His goals-against average increased and did so considerably. Combined, he had a 2.85 GAA. In the SHL, it was 2.73, a far cry from his 2.25 clip in 2016-17. We’ll find out soon enough how much the illness affected the 21-year-old goalie.
Sandstrom signed his three-year entry-level contract with the Flyers on March 28 but has one year left on his contract with HV71. The plan is for him to spend another year in Sweden.
Sound familiar? Perhaps it should. Last summer, many believed Sandstrom would come overseas for 2018-19, but the illness and missed time pushed that timetable back another year.
“You’re a young kid and you’ve never really been this before and how you handle it, how much of a pro you are, how you are with your teammates,” Hextall said. “It makes you hungry as a goalie. You can never really let your level drop. … I think he’s going to have a bang-up year.”
As Hartmania only gets louder now that he’ll very likely be a short hour-and-a-half drive away, Sandstrom will return to the SHL with a chip on his shoulder.
To prove that he still remains a highly-regarded NHL goalie prospect.
That he isn’t just the other goalie in the Flyers’ organization.
Don’t sleep on Sandstrom. As Jason Kelce says, hungry dogs run faster.