The cornerstone of my life has, is, and always will be hockey.
My wife will joke that ‘I’m cheating on hockey with her,’ and – very seriously – claim that I am addicted to hockey. Which is probably true. In fact, I like to think of myself as being a “functional hockey addict.”
Chances are that if you’re reading this, you might have a similar connection to this great game. But we weren’t born hockey addicts; we had to become this way over time. Some people never had a chance and wore Flyers diapers with sticks in one hand with a bottle in the other.
Others, like me, had to find the game and fall in love with hockey all on our own.
My parents were never huge sports fans (much less huge Flyers fans). Sure, they supported all of the Philly teams but it was not as if they were 2nd generation fans and I was destined to become a 3rd. My love for the game started playing in the streets with neon-colored Mylec sticks.
My older brothers, friends, and the other neighborhood kids would play all of the time. The seasons would change, and most of the other kids would change sports with it, but I just wanted to keep playing hockey. It didn’t matter if it was 2 degrees or 200, the game must go on.
It turned out that the biggest obstacle for having a game was whether or not someone was dumb enough to play goal. In that regard, the game had to go on and if that meant coming home bloodied and bruised from taking shots while being an ill-equipped goalie, then that’s what I had to do to keep the game going.
This was back when I was 5yrs old. 25 years and counting, I’ve been stuck in goal ever since.
But playing street hockey everyday is not a passion. It is a hobby. Becoming a disciple of capital ‘TG,’ The Game, needs something bigger than yourself for indoctrination.
It needed the Flyers.
I don’t know if I chose the Flyers, or if they chose me, but whatever the case may be, we would spend the rest of our lives together. Which means that this kindred bond was only possible by the Flyers existing.
Of course, the Flyers would not exist without Mr. Edward Malcolm Snider.
Most of us know the story of how Mr. Snider was a record executive who happen to catch a hockey game at Madison Square Garden one day and fell in love with the game. However, most of us don’t know that hockey failed miserably in Philadelphia. Before the Flyers, the Philadelphia Quakers were one of the worst NHL teams ever assembled only playing 5 seasons. Furthermore, the Philadelphia Flames were merely a flash in the pan (pun fully intended) with the WHA.
The point being is that we pride ourselves as a city in saying that “we are a hockey town.” The truth of the matter is that we are not a “hockey town,” we are a Flyers town.
We are a Flyers town because this is a team that embodies our city. Both we and the Flyers understand that we don’t have the size and glamour of New York, and it’s been quite a long time since we were as stately as Washington D.C. Which leaves us (figuratively and) literally in the middle. And much like a middle sibling, we have always fought to establish our identity.
Mr. Snider understood this and that is why he and his team have never catered to anyone.
We know the stories:
- The back-to-back championships
- The Soviets
- The Streak
- The 87 Cup Final
We know the characters:
- Clarky, the man from Flin Flon
- The Fog
- The Riverton Rifle
- The Hammer
- The Hound
- The Bullies
- The Legion of Doom
But what keeps us coming back is that we know that regardless of the win-loss record, our team will fight for everything it gets because Mr. Snider wouldn’t allow anything less from it.
Establishing a standard was what made Mr. Snider a great man who whether or not you loved him, you respected him. What I respect most him is the Ed Snider Youth Hockey Foundation (ESYHF).
For me and many others, Mr. Snider facilitated our love of hockey in a much more indirect way. The ESYHF is far more direct. It would have been easy for Mr. Snider to establish the Flyers, and collect his millions for the rest of his life. Mr. Snider however, chose to have as direct an impact in as many people’s lives as possible by establishing the foundation that bears his name.
I am entering in my 5th season with ESHYF, and it is the most rewarding work that I have ever done. Just as Mr. Snider is responsible for my love of playing hockey, he is responsible for my love of coaching hockey.
As a (pseudo) writer, it is hard for me to articulate how much the ESYHF means to the kids and families that are a part of it.
As Bernie Parent loves to say, “It’s a beautiful thing” in so many ways.
Of course the program prides itself in teaching life lessons through hockey, but I don’t think it gets enough credit for the academic work it does. A lot of the kids in the program would be classified as “at risk youth” for many demographics but especially academically.
You may have recently saw that one of our players was awarded with the NHL/Thurgood Marshal College Fund. An accomplishment that we are very proud of but we are proud of all of our students. We understand that college may not be for everyone, but education is. So, not everyone is going to get a scholarship, but I am most proud of the effort we put into turning kids who have given up on school into ‘C’ students. These are the kids that find themselves the most marginalized without intervention and these are the kids that benefit the most from the program.
Then there is the social aspect that I love about the program. Team sports in it of themselves are great for establishing life long friendships but the Snider program’s diversity fosters friendships that I wish I had when I was growing up playing.
Hockey being a cost prohibitive sport, doesn’t really offer too much cultural or economic diversity. So, by the time my competitive career was over, I pretty much played and made friendships with different versions of myself. The Snider program however has 3,000 kids in it from Kensington, South Philly, Mt. Airy, West Philly, Pennsauken, North Philly and everywhere in between. I am truly envious of the exposure that these kids get from one in other, and the acceptance of other people’s differences that they take away from the program.
Plus, the diverse nature of the program allows me to live this wicked awesome joke set-up weekly of “An Asian hockey coach pulls up to a rink with an African American defenseman, and Hispanic goalie…”
(I never came up with a punchline. Perhaps it’s the bewildered faces of everyone when we pile out of the car.)
With some more thought, what makes me the most proud of being a coach for the Ed Snider Youth Hockey Foundation occurred last Monday at Simons recreation center. We were conducting our pre-evaluations for next seasons DVHL (travel) teams, and after the practice, a girl who is not very good and has no chance in making this squad skated up to me and asked, “what can I do to get better?”
The question floored me because she wasn’t good enough but she tried so hard at everything, and she did it with a smile on her face. It can be really difficult to get effort out of kids (teenagers in particular), so, the only thing I can say to this kids was, “just keep doing what you’re doing and everything will work out.”
Without Mr. Snider, there is no Snider program, and without the program, I bet that girl never touches a sheet of ice in her life. So, while there are many reasons why we will miss Mr. Snider, I will miss him the most because he is responsible for giving my life passion in the past, in my present, and in my future.
To that end, somewhere along my life I have learned that ‘good men make great men,’ and ‘if you’re trying to say something, chances are that somebody already said it better.’ In both regards I thank you for everything that you haven given me, Mr. Snider and can think of no better words than these in your honor:
“Never be bullied into silence. Never allow yourself to be made a victim. Accept no one’s definition of your life; define yourself.”
― Robert Frost