It was a bright, sun-shiny early fall morning in the Metro Atlanta area, late September 2003. I was driving my two sons to school while listening to one of the local sports talk radio programs. That morning they had Atlanta Thrashers GM Don Waddell as an on-air guest as they were broadcasting live from preseason training camp. Waddell was asked the usual questions regarding the team as they prepared for their fifth season of NHL play…inquiries about the players, as well as coach Bob Hartley who was entering into his first full season behind the Thrashes bench.
However, toward the end of the interview he was asked what I considered at the time to be a somewhat odd, rather random question. The host noted the number of expensive sports cars parked in front of the rink…Porches, Ferraris, BMWs, etc…cars that belonged to the young promising talent that Waddell had built the franchise around. Then he asked Waddell if he ever found himself laying awake in bed at night wondering if he would get a phone call with the tragic news that one of his stars had been involved in a serious accident, and that a player the team had invested so much money and faith in would be gone from the team due to being injured in it.
Waddell said that it worried him all the time. These kids were so young and these cars were so fast with such powerful engines, and the possibility of something unfortunate stayed in the back of his mind constantly. Yes, they are consulted and warned against conducting any unsafe practices that would get them hurt, and then ultimately hurt the team, but in the end he just had to trust that they would do the right thing. It was kind of like being the parent of 25-30 young kids, and he cringed every time he saw them zip out of the parking lot much like a father does when he sees his teenage son pull out of the driveway.
However, he then concluded that they are also adults and they have to assume the responsibilities as such.
As it turned out, the question posed to the Thrashers GM was an eerily ominous one as he received just that type of phone call a few days later. The Thrashers 2nd overall pick in the 2000 NHL draft Dany Heatley and teammate Dan Snyder were involved in a one-car wreck on Lenox Road in north Atlanta, the car crashing into an iron fence and brick wall then split in two. Both were ejected from the Ferrari 360 Modena and tossed into the street. Heatley suffered a broken jaw, minor concussion, bruised lung and kidney as well as three torn ligaments in his right knee. Snyder’s condition was much worse having suffered a fractured skull and was in serious condition.
Just like that, the nightmare scenario presented to Waddell in passing had become a reality.
Six days after the accident, on October 5, 2003, Snyder succumbed to the injuries sustain in the wreck and Thrasherville lost one of her sons. The nightmare had become a tragedy.
Thrashers faithful packed Philips Arena just days later for the season opener against the Columbus Blue Jackets. My sons, their mother and myself stood in section 104 and watched the tribute to Snyder, then bowed our heads with the rest of Thrasherville in silence, remembering the life that had been taken from us in such an unfortunate manner. The game winning puck from that night was snatched from the goal, saved, then it taken with them to Canada where they were able to present it to Dan Snyder’s parents at their son’s funeral ceremonies.
After his recovery, Heatley was able to return to play late in the 2003-04 season, playing in 31 games netting 13 goals and 12 assists. Following the lost season of 2004-05, he then shocked Thrasherville once again by requesting the team trade him away. Don Waddell granted the request, sending him to the Ottawa Senators in exchange for Marian Hossa and Greg De Vries.
Many in Thrasherville were outraged at Heatley’s desire to depart the city and separate from the team. The organization and the fans showed a great deal of support and compassion for the young super star that had not only had been responsible for the death of a teammate, but a close and dear friend. To them, he had turned his back on the team and he skated away free and clear from it all. The reception given him on his return to Philips Arena was, to say the least, less than hospitable.
Fair? I leave that for you to decide in your own hearts.
I for one find it difficult to hold a grudge against a person that has suffered in a way I have never, and by the grace of God hopefully will never know. I can only imagine what it must have been like for Heatley to pass by where his friend would sit in the locker room. I would not be surprised if he could actually still see the ghostly image of Snyder sitting there, strapping on his pads, lacing up his skates and pulling the jersey on over his head. Traveling around town, passing by places they would go, could not have been easy…especially on Lenox Road. It’s entirely possible that the best way, the only way, Heatley could fully recover and move on was to do so in a new venue.
But the one thing that I will always take away from and remember from this horrific chapter in the history of Atlanta Thrashers hockey is how Snyder’s parents responded to Dany Heatley. They forgave the young man that had so recklessly driven the car in which their son lost his life. They petitioned the judge to show leniency toward him when he stood trial for his actions. They loved on Dany Heatley and ministered to him in a way no other humans could. And whether you agree with their response or still hold animosity in your hearts for Dany Heatley, the actions of Graham and Lu Ann Snyder are not just admirable, but touching. To this day, I do not know if I myself would be able to muster up that brand of mercy and compassion if I ever found myself in the same circumstance.
Regardless of your thoughts on the matter, I invite my fellow citizens who reside in what are now the ruins of Thrasherville to join me in remembrance of the life of Dan Snyder on this the ten year anniversary of his passing. Take a moment to once more pause in silent tribute and think about those who still suffer far more than we ever can as mere fans…his mother and father.
May God continue to hold Dan Snyder’s parents, family and friends near His bosom as they go through this day and those still to come, and may they always find comfort there as well as the memories of him.