Dan Snyder: He lived life the right way
In just a few weeks, he would have been turning 42.
The greatest kid who I ever had the pleasure of covering during my career as a junior hockey writer.
We’re taking a swerve away from our usual Ottawa Senator-centric weekly glance to take a look back, and to jog a few memories.
Dan Snyder deserves at the very, very least – that.
Just to bring you up to date on who the heck I am – I covered the Ontario Hockey League as a beat reporter from 1989-1999 in wintry Owen Sound for a weekly called The Tribune and CFOS radio, then again from ’99 through to the late 2000s here in Ottawa with the Sun and, what was then, TEAM 1200 radio.
That’s a lot of days and nights crammed onto a bus that would sometimes travel 12-15 hours on the road (loved those swings from Owen Sound through to Sault Ste. Marie in mid-January).
Safe to say, you meet a lot of characters during those journeys.
Here in Ottawa I’d sit two seats back of Brian Kilrea (perched in the front seat). Assistant Bert O’Brien to his left, assistant Vinnie Malette behind Bert. Sometimes owner Jeff Hunt would be up there as well.
You can bet there were a few stories shared. Killer’s knowledge and memory concerning all things hockey was, and still is, miraculous. You want to learn about hockey? Try sitting on a make-shift seat at the front of the team bus between Bert and Killer for 4-5 hours and listen to these guys talk.
Education . . . loads of laughs too.
But prior to Ottawa I had my real initiation in The Scenic City, as they call it.
In ’89 I left the ‘comfort’ of working at The Bay at Yonge and Bloor (I sold shoes in sporting goods, zowie!) to take a reporting job with CKCO-TV up north.
That’s in the Muskoka’s, right?
Two-and-a-half hours later I found that you need to take a large jog on Hwy. 10 to the west to get to the city of 21,000.
I also discovered that I wasn’t long for TV news. In a matter of time I found myself writing for this mom n’ pop weekly as the only guy on staff who had a vague clue about hockey.
I loved it.
Junior hockey’s always been home to me and for a spell I’d even have to congratulate myself on being one of the top journos covering the beat.
I miss it.
‘Cause of the characters and the camaraderie.
Guys I got to know well during my years include Brendan Bell and Lance Galbraith and Seamus Kotyk here in Ottawa.
In Owen Sound I had the pleasure of sitting in the seat directly in front of Sean Avery, who, as experts would have you know, never shut up for the entire 3.5 years he rode with the Owen Sound Platers (BTW, you can say what you want about Sean, but he was the absolute best interview in the OHL – brutally honest and direct. He was also a helluva talent.)
Adam Mair, who 20 hours after the Platers had been eliminated in the ’99 Western Conference final by London was playing on a line with Tie Domi and Kris King on the Toronto Maple Leafs in Pittsburgh for Game 3 of the Eastern Conference semis. (Two shifts in and Matthew Barnaby’s trying to goad young Mair into a fight).
Mair was part of an exceptional priority selection ‘draft’ four years previous by the Platers, in 1995. It was Owen Sound’s best during the 10 years I was there.
Mair, Ryan Davis, Ryan Christie, Steve Gallace and then, with the 112th pick overall (7th round), Dan Snyder of the Elmira Sugar Kings (OHA Jr. B).
This draft was rich with gritty, quality kids.
But when you’re a 7th-round pick, the odds are stacked pretty high against you. The likelihood of making an OHL club is no likelihood at all.
Snyder, though, all 145-lbs. of him won a spot.
Again, the expectations were low. ‘He’s too small.’ ‘He’s too skinny.’
Snyder went on to play four seasons in Owen Sound, the last two as team captain. His point totals grew from 25 in his rookie season to 94 as an overage.
His style of play wasn’t just about collecting points though.
Snyder was Indian-rubber tough (think: Mike Peca). He might have always been under-sized, but he played the game as tough as anyone (boy, could he ever throw them).
I remember Owen Sound facing the Soo back in the ’99 playoffs. The Greyhounds had the league’s biggest heavyweight in Adam Nittel. Snyder was in this poor guy’s ear the entire series, chirping the intimidation right out of him.
I asked him about it after the series win, Snyder just shrugged it off: Part of the game, no big deal.
But that’s the type of captain he was on the ice – take matters into your own hands. Lead by example.
Need a goal? Here you go. Need a big hit? No sweat.
It was off the ice where this kid won a lot of hearts as well.
Hospital visits to kids were a priority.
Meeting with the fan club? He always had time for that.
Any sort of local event that needed backing, Dan Snyder would be there.
At the year-end Platers’ awards banquet, the captain’s speech was always worth a listen. He would graciously thank all the billets and fans . . . and even the media. Even when we wrote less than positive reviews about his club.
He had a wicked sense of humour too.
Dan would parade his series of bad hockey jerseys on the team bus during road swings. It was quite a sight.
He relished the ridicule.
He loved The Simpsons. Unfortunately Dan’s impressions of Homer et all were cringe-worthy.
We laughed anyway . . . mostly AT him.
Dan was Dan for a lot of reasons but none more so than his parents. Graham and LuAnn are salt of the earth folk. People who just do right. Always.
When they lost their son in that 2003 crash in a car driven by future Senator Dan Heatley, Graham and LuAnn forgave Heatley. Their words inspired a lighter sentence.
They didn’t want to see another life ruined in the tragedy.
Hockey then picked up on what I’d already known – Dan Snyder was a great individual.
The OHL renamed its Humanitarian of the Year Award the Dan Snyder Memorial Trophy.
There was the creation of the Dan Snyder Memorial Scholarship to be handed out annually to three Elmira, Ont. students.
The Dan Snyder Memorial Foundation was founded and helped fund a project to build a sports complex in his hometown. The new arena bears his name.
Finally, the band The Tragically Hip wrote and produced a song called Heaven is a Better Place Today as a tribute to Dan.
One final story for you.
Back in the 2003 OHL playoffs, just a few months before Dan’s passing and about a year and change into his NHL career with the Atlanta Thrashers, the 67’s were in Kitchener for Game 1 of the league final.
Somehow, some way Dan found out I’d be on the 67’s bus travelling to the Memorial Auditorium.
He’d just wrapped up his first big-league season and was back home in Elmira.
Instead of spending time rolling around his hometown boasting about how he’d made it to The Show, Dan jumped in his car and drove down to Kitchener to surprise me with a visit.
The kid had made it to the NHL. Against all odds. Remarkable.
But what’s even more remarkable and telling about Dan Snyder is that he’d rather make an effort to see an old pal from junior than ‘play the role’ and ‘get noticed.’
So there he was. As usual, a big grin and a hug. A quick chat to catch up then it was back on the bus and back to Ottawa for me.
But he left his mark, as he always did.
It wasn’t much of a surprise to me that the last time I saw my friend Dan Snyder was in a hockey rink.
Wouldn’t have it any other way.
It’s been nearly 17 years since Dan’s passing.
I hope he knows what an impact he made.
You needed to know that.