Karen and Ralph Zander spent 22 years as a billet host family for the Calgary Hitmen. Monday morning at the Saddledome was the first time they’ve ever watched a player who used to live with them skate for an NHL team.
Karen says it was exciting to watch Travis Sanheim wearing a Philadelphia Flyers jersey and skate with some of the best hockey players in the world.
“Wonderful, exciting,” she said. “It’s been a while since I’ve seen him skate. Wow, it’s great.”
“Just doesn’t seem like it’s real, just doesn’t feel that way. But it is great. He worked hard — very, very hard.”
Sanheim and his twin brother Taylor both lived in the Zander household when they played for the Hitmen. In fact, three years ago when Travis signed his NHL entry-level contract he turned to Ralph to witness the great moment
“He said, ‘Would you witness mine?’ Well I’ve never done anything like that before. I put my John Henry on there and away he goes.”
Travis shared an emotional hug with the Zanders after morning skate and said he helped them grow into the man he is today.
“I had a couple sets of billets when I was here in Calgary and enjoyed both of them,” Sanheim said. “They did a lot for me — especially at a young age when you’re coming into junior and you need those guys for support — and I thought they did a really good job of that and happy to stay in touch with them.”
Mike Moore, the vice president of the Calgary Hitmen, said it’s always very special when former Hitmen players return to the Saddldome as members of an NHL club.
“Pretty cool when you see them end up in the NHL. Obviously we have guys who have turned into doctors and lawyers and other things as well so it’s neat to see young guys become young men.
“To have Travis become a Philadelphia Flyer and wear their jersey and come back and play here for the first time is a pretty neat to see.”
Taylor Sanheim is now at school at the University of Saskatchewan. The Sanheim twins were Karen and Ralph’s last ever billet players.
“I hadn’t thought about that until today and yes it is special,” Karen said. “They were special. Travis is still special to us as you can see. Taylor has moved on.”
The Zanders also plan to attend Monday night’s match up between Calgary and Philadelphia to see Travis try and shut down Johnny Gaudreau and the Flames.