"As the tournament moved on from year to year, it brought us together to now laugh and enjoy Dan and be more at peace with our loss. This is not to say we all don't feel pain but we can enjoy him now for what he was, a truly special person and friend." -- Jarrod Skalde
This October will mark five years since Atlanta Thrashers forward Dan Snyder died after being involved in a car accident while riding with good friend and teammate, Dany Heatley. It's been a hard road, but with the help of a close-knit family, friends, community, and "hockey family," everyone has offered their ongoing support. It's been most evident every July at the Dan Snyder Memorial Golf Tournament. The tournament has been a tireless effort that began in 2004 to raise money for the construction of the Woolwich Memorial Recreation Centre, home to The Dan Snyder Memorial Arena.
The yearly golf outing, which included a silent auction, exceeded the $500,000 benchmark with a total of $565,000, raising $115,000 alone in its last effort held July 14. Those who attended the tournament's last official silent auction and dinner following the golf outing were treated to a preview of all the hard work. Across the street from Elmira's Lions Hall stood the concrete beginnings of an impressive structure of the recreation center and what appeared to be the arena's seating formation.
"It's going to be a great facility in our community for the next several years," said Dan's older brother, Jake. "I've been thinking a lot lately too about how my own children will be able to skate at an arena named after my brother. It's quite overwhelming. And I know that this is not the way that he wanted to be a part of building a new facility, but he has done more than I think he would have ever imagined. I'm glad to know that he is a big part of this even after his passing. "
The Snyder family is ecstatic to see reach their goal after five summer tournaments. The completion of the recreation center will realize one of Dan's dreams of building a new arena to replace the old Elmira Arena that hosts his former Junior B team, the Elmira Sugar Kings. The grand opening is expected for August 2009, just in time for the Kings' new season.
With each brick set in stone, the Snyders and their friends have also settled and grown every passing year. The very first golf tournament in July 2004 proved the most difficult, as many in attendance hadn't reconnected since Snyder's funeral.
"I felt the first year of the tournament allowed more time for some of us to grieve together," said Jarrod Skalde, one of Snyder's best friends and coach of the Bloomington Prairie Thunder. "After the funeral, we all parted ways and it was the first time back together to share some stories and reflect on Dan.
"As the tournament moved on from year to year, it brought us together to now laugh and enjoy Dan and be more at peace with our loss. This is not to say we all don't feel pain but we can enjoy him now for what he was, a truly special person and friend."
As the tournament came to a close, there were mixed feelings all around and not a dry eye in the house. Yes, golf was on the official agenda, but visiting guests and locals commonly sat at the Snyder home where Graham Snyder, Dan's father, showed off his barbecue skills in the backyard.
It's where strangers quickly became friends and family bonds grew stronger in the middle of a small Canadian town.
"The loyalty and dedication of many of these friends of Dan brings a tear to my eye every time I think of it," Graham said. "People sleeping in their cars and driving and flying from around North America to be here each year is inspiring. Hockey players willingly paying hundreds of dollars to play in an event they would normally be paid to appear at. It's through that type of dedication that we surpassed our financial goals and built the feeling we all felt each year at this event."
Among the attendees at the final tournament and dinner were Snyder's good friends, hockey players Heatley, Jeff Cowan, Brad Tapper, Curtis Murphy, Ryan Christie, Ben Simon, and Skalde, as well as TSN's Bob McKenzie, and Rogers Sportsnet and Versus reporter Christine Simpson was the master of ceremonies. Hockey Night in Canada's Ron MacLean, who usually handles those duties, could not attend the final year, but sent a heartfelt video about maintaining a friendship with the Snyders for years to come.
Family was also in full force.
"The tournament has been such an amazing time each year and has given me so much." said Snyder's cousin Keri Brooks-Bertotti. "I know that it has given me valuable friendships for the years to come and has also taught me the importance of giving. It still amazes me that even after five years, there are still some great stories about Dan to be told."
-- Graham Snyder
"Dan would make us sing the national anthem and then play," she said. "He also rode his tricycle through as the Zamboni to clean the ice all while making us stand on the sidelines when he did that."
Keri recalled one of the last times she saw her cousin at their late grandfather's golf outing in August 2003. Afterward, the group headed to another relative's house, and Snyder, always lighthearted, jumped into a tiny Barbie car, wearing a small-sized hockey helmet (for safety) and said, "I'll meet ya there!" while driving it down the street.
"When we were saying goodbye that night, he picked me up over his shoulder and swung me around," she recalled. "I thought for sure he was going to drop me, but he didn't let me go."
As funny as Dan was, he also had a serious side, one that propelled him to make the NHL despite not being drafted. He often credited his upbringing for much of his success. He was proud of his roots.
"You would know he was proud of his family and community," said Skalde of what his old friend would think of the tourney's success. "He really was proud of his town, his family and all his friends in Elmira and everyone -- as we all have seen -- was proud of him."
Though the tournament may have teed off for the last time, those special bonds and relationships will continue. The Snyders insist their garage door will remain open for scaled-down reunions throughout the years and for weary traveling friends looking for a friendly face.
"I guess for all the people who continued to show up year after year, all we can say is thank you," Jake, Dan's older brother, said. "The support we have received for our new rec facility is huge, but it pales in comparison to the support and strength they have given our family over the last five years.
"They've come to share their memories, and we always make a few new ones every year. The new friendships made will last a lifetime."