Game 3 of the Eastern Conference First Round series between the Philadelphia Flyers and Washington Capitals got off to an emotional start Monday with a pregame ceremony honoring late Flyers founder and chairman Ed Snider.
The game was the Flyers' first at Wells Fargo Center since Snider died April 11 at age 83 following a two-year battle with cancer. For a few minutes, the importance of the game to the Flyers, who trail 2-0 in the best-of-7 series, took a backseat to paying tribute to the man responsible for bringing hockey to Philadelphia as an NHL expansion team in 1967-68.
Speaking before the game, Commissioner Gary Bettman called the ceremony "something that both mourns his passing and celebrates his great life."
"The NHL family, and by that I mean all of the clubs, the League office, the players, the fans, especially here in Philadelphia, have suffered a huge loss. There's no other way to put it," Commissioner Bettman said. "Ed was a dynamic visionary who turned Philadelphia into one of the great hockey towns in the world. He was passionate about everything he did. Everything he did was first class. He believed in excellence and his team, the Flyers, and his arenas, whether it's this one or the one he built across the street (The Spectrum), were always in his mind to provide the best possible fan experience."
Fans arriving Monday were greeted by a large banner hanging on the outside of Wells Fargo Center with Snider's image over the Flyers logo with his signature and "A Flyer Forever" written underneath. Inside, on the ice behind each net, were Snider's initials, EMS (Edward Malcolm Snider), and the Flyers logo.
Prior to the opening faceoff, Snider's life and commitment to his family, the Flyers and Philadelphia were chronicled during a two-minute video shown on the center ice scoreboard video screen with Billy Joel's "Souvenir" as the accompanying music. Following a moment of silence in Snider's memory, Lauren Hart, wearing an orange Flyers' jersey with No. 67 and Snider on the back, brought the emotions to another level by singing "God Bless America" along with the video of the late Kate Smith.
Hart, the daughter of late longtime Flyers radio and television broadcaster Gene Hart, also performed the duet with Smith prior to the Flyers' April 9 home game against the Pittsburgh Penguins. That day, Hart held up her cell phone to FaceTime with Snider, so he could hear and be part of it while sick at his home in Montecito, Calif. The Flyers defeated the Penguins 3-1 to clinch a berth in the Stanley Cup Playoffs and Snider passed away two days later.
"The last week was a little tough," Flyers captain Claude Giroux said after the team's morning skate Monday. "It was tough on a lot of people. That includes our organization, anyone who was ever involved with the Flyers, ex-players that had a relationship with Mr. Snider. It's been pretty emotional."
The Flyers last saw Snider during a visit to his Montecito home on New Year's Eve. Prior to becoming ill, Snider regularly attended games and often stopped by the locker room afterward to shake his players' hands.
"The most special memory I have is meeting him and getting the chance to shake his hand," Flyers right wing Wayne Simmonds said. "I've said it before, it's not all the time that the owner is so hands-on and has such a good relationship with the majority of the players as Mr. Snider did. So, that was pretty special to me."
There will be a public celebration of Snider's life at 1 p.m. Thursday at Wells Fargo Center. The Flyers plan to attend the ceremony as a team.
Commissioner Bettman noted how Snider's impact was not limited to Philadelphia, though.
"On the personal level, I'm going to miss him, he was a very close friend, and the League is going to miss him, not just the fans here in Philadelphia and not just the Flyers," Commissioner Bettman said. "The competition committee, which was created about a dozen years ago, has always had one owner as its member, and from its inception, there's only been one owner who's had that position, and that was Ed Snider, and that was a function of the fact that he cared and was focused on what was good for the League and for the game and he commanded the respect of the players.
"He was obviously known as a players' owner, but his command and knowledge was as good as anybody who has ever been involved in this game at any level. … Obviously, everybody has the sympathy and the condolences of the entire NHL family for a great man who is going to be missed."