It looked like it was going to be a fool’s game, trying to bring professional hockey to a city whose only previous foray was a 4-win team known as the Philadelphia Quakers that lasted one forgettable NHL season in the 1930′s.
But Ed Snider, born and raised in Washington, DC, who had never seen a hockey game until his adult years when a friend took him to a game at the old Madison Square Garden, pressed on when one loan officer not attuned to the sport looked him in the eye and said “I don’t think soccer is going to make it in this town.”
That was 1966, and the story was told for the first time to the public when it was included in the Flyers’ 25th anniversary video released in 1991.
Only a year after that odd encounter, Snider had his team, an expansion franchise in the staid National Hockey League, as well as the arena in which they would call home — built in less than a calendar year. His vision for the fledgling team was fulfilled in nearly every manner over the next 45 years.
On Monday night in Chicago, Snider was finally accepted into the hallowed edifice of the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame. It was a long time coming — too long if you ask me — since the 78-year-old had already been enshrined in the Hockey Hall of Fame way back in September of 1988. If he held any kind of grudge, or ever asked why there was such a discrepancy, he clearly didn’t show it at the podium.
Such is the grace and the perspective of a man who has been recognized for his contribution to American hockey in the last five decades.
“It’s a real honor to be inducted into the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame and a real pleasure to be inducted with this Class,” Snider said, including fellow American hockey stalwarts such as Mike “Doc” Emrick, Chris Chelios, Keith Tkachuk and Gary Suter. “When I started there were six American players in the NHL. Now there are 216 players. I’ve seen that growth year after year.
“I’m very proud that I hired the other deserving inductee, Mike Emrick for our American Hockey League Team at the time, the Maine Mariners. I then gave him his first NHL job as TV broadcaster for the Flyers. I’m still bummed that we let the greatest hockey broadcaster ever get away.
“I entered the League in 1966 when we were awarded the franchise in Philadelphia. The Hockey News voted us the least likely of the new teams to succeed. Boy, I’m sure glad they were wrong because otherwise I wouldn’t be here today. In fact, I’m the longest serving member of the Board of Governors in the NHL.”
Although you can make a case that Snider, as owner and president of the storied Flyers franchise, might have been slow (but no slower than the rest of the league) to accept the talent of the burgeoning American hockey scene, it didn’t prevent him from receiving the credit for his front office acquiring and drafting some of the best-known American players. Paul Holmgren. Mark Howe. John LeClair. Garth Snow. Brian Boucher. Mark Eaton. Jeremy Roenick. Tony Amonte. Shjon Podein. Trent Klatt. Mike Knuble, and now, Matt Carle, James van Riemsdyk and Sean Couturier are players raised under the Stars and Stripes to have worn the Orange and Black.
Snider fooled them all, though, putting this city stuck between New York and Washington on the map across the hockey world with some bad ass teams which managed to re-write the rule books while winning back-to-back Stanley Cups in the quickest any expansion team had ever done so.
Long after the furor died down about the terror the Broad Street Bullies unleashed on unsuspecting opponents, Snider ended up doing his best and most meaningful work: creating the Ed Snider Youth Hockey Foundation.
Since its 2005 inception, the ESYHF has sought to provide unprivileged children in the Philadelphia area with an opportunity to learn to play hockey at local rinks. Only three years after its launch, the Snider Hockey Foundation was able to wield considerable influence by rescuing three of the five Philadelphia inner-city ice-skating rinks that had been targeted for closure by funding and operating them for the city. The Foundation now funds and administers programming in all five of those rinks, including the historic Cobbs Creek rink, now named the Laura Sims Skatehouse.
“USA Hockey oversees this Hall of Fame and has done so many great things to advance our sport in the United States. Congratulations on the terrific job you are doing and thanks again for this great honor,” Snider concluded.