Claude Giroux’s favorite moments involving the man known as the father of Philadelphia hockey were always in the locker room after a loss, when Flyers co-founder and owner Ed Snider would offer some fiery words about the future that would make everyone forget what had just happened on the ice.
So with Snider back home in California when his team clinched a Stanley Cup playoff berth Saturday afternoon by beating the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Flyers captain took out his cellphone and began recording a FaceTime video he knew the owner would want to see. The celebratory music blared in the background as players fistbumped in the locker room and Giroux turned the camera on the phone toward himself.
“We missed you in this room,” he said. “We’re playing for you.”
Surrounded by a throng of microphones a few minutes later, Giroux’s monotone voice cracked when he was asked about Snider.
“You’re a little emotional when you start thinking about it,” he said. “We know he’s happy we made the playoffs and he’s excited, and we’re definitely playing for him.”
Snider, 83, died Monday of complications from cancer, but the passion he had for this franchise will be a central storyline when Philadelphia begins its opening-round postseason series against the Washington Capitals on Thursday at Verizon Center.
The Flyers are dedicating this Stanley Cup playoff run to Snider, a Washington native who helped start the team back in 1967 and turned Philadelphia into a hockey town with his famed “Broad Street Bullies” teams that won back-to-back Stanley Cups in 1974 and 1975.
One of just two owners to predate the tenure of league commissioner Gary Bettman, Snider was revered around the NHL. Tributes about his contributions to the game and work as an entrepreneur and philanthropist flowed in from across North America on Monday. But while he left an indelible mark on the Philadelphia sports scene, he also had an undeniable influence on this season.
Back on New Year’s Eve, with the Flyers on a West Coast trip, they elected to head to Snider’s Montecito, Calif., mansion. When they clinched a playoff berth, Coach Dave Hakstol said the impromptu visit was one of the first things he thought about.
Philadelphia went winless on the road trip and sported a 15-15-7 record as they returned home. It was shaping up to be the rebuilding season most expected coming into the year. But since then, the Flyers are 26-12-7. For perspective, consider that the Capitals had a 28-11-6 record during that same span en route to winning the Presidents’ Trophy and earning home-ice advantage throughout the postseason.
Forward Wayne Simmonds credited Philadelphia’s turnaround to persistence and faith in Hakstol’s system, which the coach brought to the NHL this year after a highly successful run as North Dakota’s head coach in the college ranks. But ask around the dressing room Snider used to roam, and it won’t take long before someone mentions the motivation derived from the towering figure simply known as “Mr. Snider,” if only because the reminders of their boss are everywhere.
Take Saturday’s home finale, which began with a video recording of the late Kate Smith singing “God Bless America.” On the ice, on-site anthem singer Lauren Hart sang along while holding a cellphone and recording her own FaceTime message. Snider was watching on the other end, enjoying one last rendition of this Philadelphia tradition before a big hockey game.
He’ll be watching again in spirit when the puck drops Thursday in Washington and the Flyers begin their first Stanley Cup playoff run without their patriarch.
“Everything he’s done for this team, he is the heart and soul of the Flyers. He’s the foundation,” defenseman Shayne Gostisbehere said. “He’s done everything for this organization, and just to see what we can do for him . . . it’s pretty special and we’ll be working for him.”