VOORHEES, N.J. – Fear of failure lurks in the heart of any rookie, especially those who play defense.
It’s natural. One ill-timed mistake can cost a team a game and what first-year player wants that on his almost blank resume.
Flyers freshman backliner Travis Sanheim knows all about this condition.
It took him about a couple dozen games to get over that tentative feeling.
But after scoring his first NHL goal in a 2-1 win over Buffalo last week, Sanheim appears to be playing with a big more swagger.
Veteran Andrew MacDonald recalls having to get over the jitters back when he was a rookie and believes Sanheim is on the right track to succeed.
“That’s how it goes,’’ MacDonald said after Tuesday’s practice at the Skate Zone. “You’re trying to figure the league out, the players out. What you can get away with, what you need to do.
“It’s a tough league and there’s obviously a learning experience. But he’s done a great job. He’s eager to learn, working on his game all the time. That’s what you like to see from a young guy.’’
Sanheim has been paired with veteran Radko Gudas and having that experience by his side can be helpful for the former No. 1 draft pick.
“He’s getting better everyday,’’ Gudas said. “We hit it off pretty well. Every game we play together he’s more comfortable. He’s making plays, he’s doing more and more. I’m glad to see he’s getting more confidence.’’
After playing some stellar hockey for the Lehigh Valley Phantoms last season, there was little doubt Sanheim was ready to make the jump.
Yet there was still the matter of playing well enough in training camp to make the team, which he did.
Now, with his smooth, lengthy-stride skating style and intelligent play in the defensive zone, he’s showing why he was a first-round pick.
“Obviously the more games you get, the more comfortable you feel,’’ Sanheim said. “I’m starting to get to that point but I still feel there’s work to be done, areas I need to improve on throughout the course of the season.
“But I like my progress so far.’’
With highly touted players such as Shayne Gostisbehere and Ivan Provorov on the roster, Sanheim and fellow rookie Robert Hagg get to fly a bit under the media radar.
In a sense, that can relieve the pressure from expectations for a No. 1 pick like Sanheim.
“Both those guys are great players and key contributors for our team,’’ Sanheim said. “Maybe it helps me that those guys play the offensive side (of the game). They contribute at that end and take a little bit of that off of me. . .I don’t have to be so offensive.’’
What has Gudas contributed to Sanheim’s development?
“He’s been great, he communicates well with me,’’ Sanheim said. “To have that veteran presence, a guy who’s been around the league – just having him out there makes me feel more comfortable.’’
Sanheim looks sure of himself now.
“I think throughout the first quarter of the season, I’ve been worrying too much about making that mistake,’’ he said. “Worrying about messing up and just playing a strong defensive game.
“For me, playing that aggressive style and being assertive, being able to jump up as well as playing hard defensively, I think that’s a key part to my game.’’
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