Dan Marr remembers his late friend Dan Snyder as a genuine person who always had a twinkle in his eye.
Marr, the former Atlanta Thrashers chief scout who took a chance and signed Snyder to a free-agent contract, thinks about Snyder often, but especially this time of the year, when the NHL season opens its door.
The 10th anniversary of Snyder's death is on Saturday. He passed away in a coma six days after he suffered severe head trauma in a single-car accident. He was in the passenger seat of a Ferrari 360 Modesta driven by his teammate Dany Heatley that crashed into a brick pillar and iron-rod fence. The tragedy occurred hours after Snyder found out he had made the Thrashers opening-day roster at age 25.
The odds were stacked against Snyder making it to the NHL. He was a scrawny teenager, even in his last season of junior in Owen Sound. He didn't possess an alluring scoring touch. He lacked the impressive speed smaller players need.
But Marr couldn't cross Snyder off his list of prospects, especially after their first get-together, when the scout took the player for breakfast at the Boot and Blade Dining Lounge in Owen Sound.
"Everything about Dan was genuine," said Marr, now the director of the NHL central scouting bureau. "He was a good teammate and a good friend. He didn't embellish. He didn't have any blemishes. He never tried to be somebody or something he wasn't. He was as honest as the day's long."
Marr was asked if he thought Snyder, a forward, would still be in the NHL 10 years later.
"Yes," Marr quickly said. "Dan may not have had the same talent level as others. His contribution to a team was measured by his passion and conviction. His character was excellent. He had all the compete and heart to go along with his talent level. A coach could play him in all situations. He was so reliable."
Ten years later, Snyder is not only remembered as reliable, but his legacy lives on. The Ontario Hockey League has the Dan Snyder Memorial Trophy, awarded to the player who exhibits outstanding qualities as a positive role model in the community. Last spring, Kitchener Rangers defenceman Ben Fanelli was the recipient.
The American Hockey League's Chicago Wolves, a team Snyder helped win the 2001-02 Calder Cup, has the Dan Snyder Man of the Year Award, given to the player who demonstrates the most outstanding dedication to Chicago-area community service. Michael Davies won the honour last season.
When the Thrashers relocated to Winnipeg, the Jets carried on the franchise's tradition of the Dan Snyder Memorial Award, an honour given to the player who best embodies perseverance, dedication and hard work without reward or recognition. Last year's recipient was Jets defenceman Mark Stuart, who was presented with the award at centre-ice ceremony by Snyder's older brother Jake and father Graham.
Graham and his wife LuAnn, along with Jake and Snyder's younger sister Erika, also work hard to maintain the Dan Snyder Foundation, which annually awards scholarships to deserving recipients from in and around his hometown of Elmira, Ont. (90 minutes west of Toronto) and sponsors local events.
There also is the Dan Snyder Memorial Arena. The Thrashers held a practice there in October 2009 to help open the rink, which is part of the Woolwich Memorial Centre. The Dan Snyder Foundation donated $750,000 to help fund the project.
RitualSnyder's former junior B team, the Elmira Sugar Kings play in the rink memorialized after him. The facility's other rink is called the Jim McLeod Memorial Arena, named after a former Sugar Kings equipment manager and area sports leader who passed away from cancer at age 58.
Rich Ennis, a sports psychologist and University of Waterloo professor as well as a friend of the Snyder family, also knew McLeod well. Every time he enters the building, Ennis has this ritual of touching the glass where the names of Snyder and McLeod are etched.
"With Dan Snyder, my most prevailing thought, time after time after time, is not so much Dan's death - and I don't mean to sound disrespectful - but the courage of his family afterwards," Ennis said. "What an amazing model for forgiveness. I marvel at how they handled it. You go from Dan's tragedy to the amazing aspect of Graham and LuAnn and the family."
Snyder certainly embodied the spirit of his family's strength and leadership. Ennis, who spoke at Snyder's funeral, recalled once that Dan, as team captain in Owen Sound, wanted to discuss his team's lack of cohesion with Ennis.
The sports psychologist wrote down a few points on a napkin before they met. Ennis began the conversation by asking Snyder what he had tried. By the time the player was done talking, Ennis had all the points scratched off his list.
Ennis's next move was what he describes as a "psychologist's best defence," he asked Snyder what he thought he should do. Snyder quickly expressed some options and before the two knew it they had a plan of action.
"That's a simple memory of my friend, but that was him," Ennis said. "He was such a selfless leader. He always put the team head of himself."
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