VOORHEES, N.J. — There were always two things you counted on when hockey season began in Philadelphia.
One, that club chairman Ed Snider would appear at training camp. Two, that Snider would greet fans during the team’s annual “Meet the Flyers” event.
Today, rookie camp opens at Skate Zone and the Flyers' veterans report on Friday. As the organization celebrates its 50th anniversary season, Snider’s absence will be very noticeable.
The team’s founding father died last April from bladder cancer.
“This is the first time in 50 years Mr. Snider has not been around the Flyers,” Wayne Simmonds said.
“Last year, we did a good job to rally around him and really pushed in the end to make the playoffs. This year, we want to be a team that not only makes the playoffs, but can do some damage.”
The Flyers last saw Snider alive in December during their West Coast trip. They traveled by bus from Anaheim, California to his expansive home in Santa Barbara county.
Snider was looking frail and in serious pain that afternoon when they arrived for lunch.
Snider insisted on going through with the luncheon, knowing it would be impossible for him to travel back East to meet the team later. He wasn’t sure how much longer he had to live.
After a personal tour of his estate, players broke into smaller groups where Snider moved from one group to another and spoke of things other than hockey.
Defenseman Evgeny Medvedev told Snider he was born in Chelyabinsk, Russia. Snider replied that his family were Russian Jews from the Ukraine, who immigrated here in the early 20th century.
His uncle was a carriage maker in San Francisco whose business was ruined by the 1906 earthquake. The family moved to St. Louis. Ed’s father, Sol, immigrated first to the Midwest at age 5, then eventually settled in Washington, D.C., where Ed was born.
“Listening to his stories, some of them were unreal,” Michael Raffl said. “Guys would ask him questions and he would drop in little stories, just random, casual talking and not about hockey.”
Snider was receiving treatment at UCLA Medical Center. While the players knew he was ill, few of them realized how gravely ill he was.
“It was obvious to us he wasn’t feeling the best, but he still hosted us,” Scott Laughton said. “It was a really good day for us to be there with Mr. Snider.
“At that point, I don’t know how many of us knew how sick he was, but it was nice to see him and it was the last time we got to do that. That he saw that day just speaks to his character and doing all that when he was that sick.”
As part of the Flyers' golden anniversary this season, the organization will pay tribute to Snider’s legacy.
“He’s done so much for us and for the NHL,” Simmonds said of Snider. “He took pride in us as players and individuals. He took an interest in each and every one of us as individuals. It meant a lot for us to see him that December and it showed in our game.”
What has always endeared Snider to generations of players was he treated them as family, which is why so many remained here long after their careers ended.
“Where Snider will be missed the most is he was the one owner who always wanted his team to be first class,” Scotty Bowman said to CSNPhilly.com this summer. “He took care of his players, even if they weren’t the best players, he always tried to help players.
“That’s why so many of their players stayed around from the 1970s. He always wanted to help players get started somewhere. He did everything he could to help people get on their feet [after playing].
“All the jobs he created. He embraced his players. He wasn’t just there to own the team and make a buck. It was a family affair in Philly. He got that [Flyers Wives] carnival going at a time when no else was thinking that. And it’s still going.”
Simmonds said Snider was unique as an owner.
“I don’t know how many players he knew over his lifetime,” he said, “but if he was like that with all his other players, it was pretty special. You don’t get to see that from an owner.”
One person who will visit Wells Fargo Center this season as part of the 50th Anniversary is Lou Angotti, the team’s first captain. Angotti was among Snider’s favorite Flyers of all time.
“Ed Snider, God bless him,” Angotti said. “He was always good to me. He brought me up to Philadelphia at least five or six times. Always took good care of me.
“I look forward to going back there. They always remember me when it comes to significant things. The 25th anniversary and 40th, it was always something. But that ‘67 team was very close to Ed Snider’s heart.”
This season, Snider will be very close to his players’ hearts, as well.