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Full Speed Ahead for Snider

by Bill Fleischman / Philadelphia Flyers
No one is happier than Ed Snider about the Flyers’ remarkable climb back from last season's NHL-worst record.

Bolstered by several shrewd trades by general manager Paul Holmgren and the steady guidance of head coach John Stevens, the Flyers compiled a 42-29-11 regular season record (including a 7-2-1 in their last 10 games). Then they advanced to the NHL Eastern Conference Finals.

During an appearance on Comcast SportsNet's Daily News Live show prior to the grueling Flyers-Washington first round series, Snider said that Holmgren had done the "best job ever by a first-year (NHL) general manager." After hearing that comment, I immediately e-mailed Holmgren, suggesting it was time to ask Snider, the chairman of Comcast-Spectacor, for a raise.

“When I said that, we hadn't accomplished anything yet,” Snider said. “Here we are in the third round of the playoffs, after having the worst record in the league last year. That speaks for itself.
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“(Holmgren) took us from last place in the league to now we're one of four teams playing. Paul paid his dues in many different ways. He was a GM (Hartford Whalers); he was a coach (Flyers, Whalers). Then he was head of scouting and an assistant GM.

“He's learned from past mistakes, if he had any. On top of that, he's just grown. He's very analytical: he knows what he wants to do. He moves quickly. We're lucky to have him.”

After Bob Clarke resigned as the Flyers GM in October 2006, Holmgren succeeded him. However, Holmgren carried the title "interim GM" for a while. Some observers wondered whether Holmgren, a former bruising Flyers player, had the relentless streak that all successful professional GMs possess.

“I also wasn't sure,” Snider said. “I wanted to watch him. Originally, my thought was that (since) we had the worst record in the league, we had to have a whole new approach. We had to bring in somebody from the outside to look at us and say `Are we too insular? Have we been doing the same things wrong?’

“Paul took the reins and didn't mind that it was interim. (He's proven) that he's the man (for the job).”

Snider has been the man for the Flyers top job for decades. At age 75, he's still going strong.

Flyers fans know that Snider always has the best interests of the Flyers at heart. He's always been committed to putting a winning team on the ice.

* * *

Many executives Snider's age have long been retired to Florida or Arizona.
From left: Bernie Parent, Philadelphia mayor Frank Rizzo, Fred Shero, Bobby Clarke and Ed Snider after the Flyers' first Stanley Cup in 1974. (Flyers Photos)

“If I didn't have the enthusiasm, I would retire,” he said. “The fortunate thing about being in professional sports is, each year's a new challenge. It's not like you have a widget factory that you've had for 40 years and you're tired of it.

“I enjoy the challenge of trying to build a winner. I want to do everything I can for our organization, our players and our fans.”

Snider was a force behind the building of the Wachovia Center. While the noisy “presentations” in the building for Flyers and Sixers games annoy some older fans and media members, the 12-year-old Center is a major entertainment center.

“The building is an incredible success,” Snider said. “I'm particularly proud that we built it primarily with private funds. When we go around to the new buildings, there's always things you can find that others are doing that are interesting and we can do our own version of it. There's been a lot of new buildings since we built it, and I still love this building the best. For a large building, I think we hit a home run. I think we have as much intimacy, if not more, than any other building.”

Snider said the noise also bothers him. “But it's the world today,” he said. “If you go into any other building, it's the same thing.”

Spend decades with a thriving organization and you have an arena full of memories. To no one's surprise, the Flyers first Stanley Cup championship, in 1974, tops Snider's list.

“Nothing will rival that,” he said. “That's in a class all by itself.”

The Flyers' 4-1 victory over the Soviet Red Army team, in 1976, is a highlight, as are the people he's been involved with.

“So many players have gone through,” he said. “I'm still close with many of them. We have great alumni.

“We're very proud of our heritage, considering the fact that we're an expansion team. We think we're considered like one of the original (NHL) teams because we've established such an identity. When I see our logo all over the world, and on TV and newspapers, and know that I was part of the design of that logo, and it's still the same and our colors are the same...I think we've established a great tradition.”

Keith Allen, the general manager during the Stanley Cup years, is one of Snider's favorite people. During my years on the Flyers beat for the Daily News, I nicknamed Allen "Keith the Thief'' after another one-sided trade in the Flyers favor.

“I still call him ‘Keith the Thief,’” Snider said, laughing.

Allen is now 85.

* * *

One of Snider's favorite projects is the Ed Snider Youth Hockey Foundation (ESYHF). Launched three years ago, the foundation uses hockey to help educate young people on how to succeed in life. The foundation serves more than 2,000 boys and girls throughout the Delaware Valley.
Ed Snider meets with participants from the Ed Snider Youth Hockey Foundation before a recent Flyers game. (Flyers Photos)

The cost of instruction, equipment, ice time and supplemental educational activities are provided at no cost. Funds are raised through private, corporate and foundation support. The program's annual operating cost is about $1 million. Snider has pledged to match every dollar raised with $2 of his.

“We're very proud of it,” Snider said. Like most (involved) people, I'm very concerned about youth in the inner cities, what they have to go through and the issues that they face all the time. It came to me that I could do more through ice hockey than any other way. When you're helping thousands of kids, it's a real good feeling.”

Snider was touched by a letter he received from a girl in the program. She wrote, "You've given (children) a place where they can relieve stress, have fun and also learn to appreciate education. Before this great organization started, I had no hope for life. I was led in the wrong direction. I've learned my mistakes, thanks to you, Mr. Snider.

“Now in my second year of high school, I realize that practice makes perfect, whether it's on the ice or in the classroom. Because of the advice and support of such great coaches, I am now an honor roll student and college bound. I've accomplished things that I thought I would never succeed in.”

Pausing, Snider gathered himself and said, “When you get that kind of letter, it's worth the whole thing.”

Please note that the views expressed in this column are not necessarily the views expressed by the Philadelphia Flyers Hockey Club.

Bill Fleischman is a veteran Philadelphia Daily News sports writer. He was the Flyers' beat reporter for the Daily News in the 1970s, and continued to cover games in later years. A former president of the Professional Hockey Writers and the Philadelphia Sports Writers Associations, Fleischman is co-author of "Bernie, Bernie," the autobiography of Bernie Parent. Fleischman also is co-author of "The Unauthorized NASCAR Fan Guide." Since 1981, he has been an adjunct professor in the University of Delaware journalism program.

He is a graduate of Germantown High School and Gettysburg College.
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