PHILADELPHIA -- Love was the overarching theme during an emotional two-hour celebration of Philadelphia Flyers founder and chairman Ed Snider at Wells Fargo Center on Thursday.
Love of his family. Love of the city of Philadelphia. And mostly love of the Philadelphia Flyers.
"Wells Fargo Center is the center of where Ed Snider lived," NHL Commissioner Gary Bettman said. "Although he had many interests, among them art, tennis, the writings and philosophy of Ayn Rand. But the Flyers were Ed's passion."
Snider died April 11 at age 83.
"Even though we knew Mr. Snider was passing and had time to prepare ourselves, it really hurt," Flyers senior vice president and Hockey Hall of Fame member Bob Clarke said. "And it's going to hurt us for a long time."
A number of speakers shared personal memories of Snider and how he affected their lives.
Commissioner Bettman recalled one of his final conversations with Snider, which ended with Snider telling him, "You are the best. I love you."
Video: Remembering Philadelphia Flyers Founder Ed Snider
"Which is not something the Commissioner tends to hear from one of his bosses," Commissioner Bettman said. "I love him too, and we all do. ... His impact on all of us is permanent. The fire in his eyes is now an eternal flame."
Very little got in the way of Snider's love for the Flyers. Not even businessman and presidential candidate Donald Trump.
Drew Katz, son of Snider's friend, late former New Jersey Devils co-owner Lewis Katz, told a story about Snider kicking Trump out of his box during a Flyers playoff game.
"Had nothing to do with his political views," Drew Katz said. "Had to do with the fact that [Trump] would not stop talking to Ed during a game. There's nothing that comes between Ed Snider and his hockey games."
Snider's players saw that fire during his 50 years atop the organization. Clarke said one moment from the end of the 1977 Stanley Cup Playoffs resonated with him.
The Flyers had been swept by the Boston Bruins, and not long after the series ended, Barry Ashbee, a Flyers assistant coach and teammate of Clarke on the Cup championship teams, died from leukemia. At Ashbee's funeral, Clarke apologized to Snider for his poor play during the loss to the Bruins.
"I said Mr. Snider, I apologize for the way our team played and the way I played. But we found it very hard to have the emotion to play the game when our close friend was lying in bed dying," Clarke said. "Mr. Snider, in a very fatherly fashion, said, 'Barry would never have wanted that and you have no right to use Barry's illness as a reason for not playing good. If anything you had the chance to compete that Barry never did. You should have competed harder.' A lesson in life that I'll never forget."
Clarke said the loyalty Snider showed to his players was a reason they played so hard for him. Dozens attended the ceremony Thursday, representing every decade of the franchise. Also in attendance was the current team. After the ceremony, they left for Washington, where Game 5 of the Eastern Conference First Round against the Washington Capitals will be played Friday (7 p.m. ET; NBCSN, CBC, TVA Sports, CSN-DC, CSN-PH).
"When we all pass we don't know where we're going," Clarke said. "But for me I really hope that when I get there I get another chance to play one more game in orange and black for Mr. Snider's Philadelphia Flyers."
What Snider might have been most proud of was the Ed Snider Youth Hockey Foundation, which he started in 2005 as a way to use hockey to help children from lower-income families. ESYHF serves more than 3,000 children in the Philadelphia region, with hockey rinks that include educational resource centers.
Among the success stories is Virlen Reyes, who grew up in Kensington, one of the most economically disadvantaged sections of Philadelphia. She said discovering the free programs at ESYHF gave her hope where she saw very little.
"I was in awe," she said. "The glimmering lights reflecting off the wide-open expanse of the ice, and the warm welcome of the coaches. Hope, promise and possibilities soon began to displace my previous sense of depression and despair."
Reyes graduated cum laude from West Chester University, where she was captain of the women's hockey team. She is the first ESYHF alum to graduate college and now works for Spectra, the arena management arm of Comcast Spectator. She is enrolled in a professional government program in entrepreneurship and innovation at Stanford University with the goal of becoming the company's first creative engineer.
"Mr. Snider's spirit is very much alive in every success story that comes from Snider Hockey," she said.
Clarke told a story from early in his time as general manager of the Flyers to describe Snider's love for the fans.
"He was in my office one day just talking and I said, 'Mr. Snider, I've got this piece of paper on my desk from the National Hockey League. It said the Flyers were in the top three in attendance, were in the top three in winning percentage, but we're in the bottom seven in average ticket prices,'" Clarke said. "As those of us who know and love him, his eyes flashed and he said in a stern voice, 'Anybody can run this business by raising ticket prices. Let's see you run it with what you've got.'"
Jay Snider, Ed's son, said in his father's last days he wanted to make sure he let Flyers fans know how much they meant to him.
He said, "The last full sentence he ever spoke to me ... this is what he said, not just for me orthe family; he told me so I would tell you: 'I can't thank the Flyers enough for everything they've given to me and my family.'"