Graham and LuAnn Snyder with Adrian Aucoin
Marcie Garcia | NHL.com correspondent
Oct 17, 2006, 6:13 PM EDT
When Graham and LuAnn Snyder began their cross-country NHL Tour, LuAnn securely fastened herself into the co-pilot seat of their "Magic Bus", the recreational vehicle parked in the driveway of her sister Susan's house.
The adventure was abruptly cut short for a few minutes by a few stubborn branches that just wouldn't let go of the RV's roof. Graham found himself climbing on top of the vehicle and sawed the tangled branches loose. He then dusted himself off, jumped in, and off they went.
Fittingly, that is the same way the Snyder family has dealt with the tragedy of losing their son, Dan. They've gotten up, dusted themselves off, and continued on; even if the alternative of letting devastation consume them seemed the easier route.
Today, the Snyders find themselves touring all 30 NHL cities during the 2006-07 season in honor of Dan. The Snyders will work with each team's community to raise awareness and funds for the Dan Snyder Memorial Fund.
The tour is an extension of the yearly golf tournament and silent auction that is held in Elmira, Ontario -- Snyder's hometown -- that has already raised $370,000 during the past three years. So far, the Snyders have raised close to $700,000 in their son's memory.
"We had wanted to give something back to the people in the game of hockey that supported us over the last few years, and I had been doing some speaking in Canada at a few places, and received a pretty good reception," Graham said. "We decided our experience might be something that would be of interest to hockey fans and hockey players around the country. We talk about a number of things; We talk about forgiveness, of course, and we talk about teamwork and supporting each other. We talk about finding the positives in life and the choices that we have to make -- making positive choices."
The tour is a traveling "thank you" for the outpouring of support the Snyders received during the grueling days that led up to Dan's death.
Dan, a blue-eyed sparkplug, quick-witted consummate optimist, and Atlanta Thrasher's center, died Sept. 29, 2003, six days after an auto accident with then teammate Dany Heatley.
At the time, Snyder was just making the full-time jump into the NHL with the Thrashers, having previously been a key player for the 2000-01 IHL champion Orlando Solar Bears, and the 2001-02 AHL champion Chicago Wolves, where he had scored five-game winning goals in the playoffs.
Never drafted, Snyder's NHL dream came true in the 2002-03 season, when he played 36 games with the Thrashers, scoring 10 goals and adding four assists.
In the days that followed the accident and in the months after his passing, the Snyders received thousands of letters and condolence cards, recent photos of themselves with Dan, and even one of Dan's old jerseys -- a prized possession to one family that believed it was more important to return the sweater to the Snyder family.
The tour is also an opportunity to continue to raise funds for various charitable causes in Dan's name, most notably a new recreational facility and hockey arena to be built in the Snyder's hometown.
"They've just announced in the last few weeks that the arena part of the project is going to be named the Dan Snyder Memorial Arena, so we're definitely trying to support that in any way we can," Graham said. "We've also created a scholarship fund that has largely come from players from the NHL Players' Association and that provides four scholarships to young athletes every year, so they can continue their studies and continue pursuing their dreams, as well. That's a big part of it."
The Tour was an epiphany that started months ago. It grew legs when Devon Smith of the NHLPA got involved. The family's (Graham, LuAnn, son Jake and daughter Erika) desire to give something back to the people of hockey who supported them during the past three years, became a reality after the NHLPA, NHL, and NHL member clubs committed their full support via funding, tickets, and other resources to be used throughout the tour.
Graham has offered to be a key-note speaker to team booster clubs, area schools, and even to hockey players and coaches, in every city.
The Snyders will also set up shop at the arenas to sell A Season of Loss, A Lifetime of Forgiveness : The Dan Snyder and Dany Heatley Story, a book penned by John Manasso, who initially covered the accident for the Atlanta Journal Constitution. They will also be selling No. 37 pins -- Snyder's uniform number while with the Atlanta Thrashers.
"Dan was always one to volunteer his time to work with kids," said LuAnn. "His community, wherever he lived, meant everything. He always went in and volunteered his services before they could ask him and always knew what he wanted to do."
Throughout Dan's hockey career, his philanthropy included volunteering to the Kidney Society, due to his uncle having had kidney disease, the Cancer Society, because his grandfather died of cancer during his time playing in the International Hockey League, the Read to Succeed program, and the "Dan's Dog's" animal adoption cause, while with the Chicago Wolves.
The final cause he volunteered for was in Atlanta in September of 2003, just before the accident. He called LuAnn and told her he had already told the Thrasher's public relations department he wanted to volunteer within the local fire department.
"He called me and told me, 'Mom, I already told them I wanted to be involved in the fire department.' I'm a volunteer firefighter for our local fire department and that just meant so much to me that he would go and do that on his own," LuAnn said tearfully. "But anything he could do in the community he was involved in -- it meant everything to him."
no matter where Dan was living at the time, he was always committed to Elmira, especially to the aspiring young hockey players in the Woolwich Minor Sports Program -- a program in which he had played with the Elmira Sugar Kings as a youth.
In July 2003, a town study estimated that a new arena would not be needed in Elmira for another 14 years (2017). When Luann called her son after hearing the news, Dan was devastated.
"I remember the phone call telling Dan," said LuAnn. "He asked me where the matter stood and I said they're going to build a new one, and he said, 'Oh, that's great mom, when are they gonna build it?' And I said in 2017. I could just see him rolling his eyes. 'You're kidding, you've got to be kidding,' he said. He was absolutely flabbergasted and he said 'I'm gonna do whatever I can. I'm going to think about this.' He would get very hyped up.
"We finished our conversation and maybe an hour later he called me back and had all sorts of ideas about how he could help. He said he had some good friends, even at that time he mentioned Dany Heatley. He said 'I'll get Dany involved, get anyone in the NHL. We'll do something. We'll make this happen.'
Consequently, the arena is a cause near and dear to the Snyders.
"We knew how badly he wanted it and how he was going to try to make it happen, so we need to do it for him", LuAnn said.
The first stop of the Tour, Chicago on Oct. 12, was well received. Dan lived there for almost three years while playing for the Wolves. He enjoyed the city so much he considered buying a home there before making the jump to NHL. Although the Snyders were not able to visit the Wolves this time around, they were welcomed by the Chicago Blackhawks, who presented the Snyders with an autographed jersey for auction. Blackhawks' captain Adrian Aucoin met the couple and extended his support for the tour. The Snyders also received autographs by Martin Havlat, to be used for specially made posters for an upcoming charity auction.
"It's obviously a story that everyone was affected by," Aucoin said. "Hockey is like a family. Once you're on the ice it's a battle, but every member is just as important whenever tragedies happen. You always look out for each other, especially when it's something you're close to and can affect you. The whole thing with forgiveness and all, it's not the easiest thing to do. Sometimes we forget about the small things and it takes a tragedy to wake up and see how lucky we are."
Throughout the Tour, Jake and his new wife, Dawn, and Erika, who will also be running the Tour website -- www.37risingstars.com -- will be dropping in from time to time. It will be a reunion of sorts as they meet up with some of Dan's old teammates and friends, like Brad Tapper, now with the Philadelphia Flyers, and, of course, Dany Heatley with the Ottawa Senators.
The Snyders are excited to see Heatley early next year.
"Graham called him and spoke to him about it and he thought it was a great idea and he was very supportive," LuAnn said. "He said 'You guys get out there and do this and I'm 100 percent behind you,' and that was really good to have his support. He's always come in and attended the golf tournament and he and Jake still stay in touch and talk regularly on the phone. He's a very fine young man. I can't say enough about him what a fine young man he is."
As the Snyder's loaded up the RV (loaned by Don Reynolds, Dan's former agent) with some of Dan's old kitchen utensils no less -- bringing some of Dan with, says LuAnn -- there was a remarkable coincidence that the Snyders saw as a sign Dan was still with them. Graham noticed a sign near the stairs that noted the coach was 37 feet long.