Thrashers Try to Move On

Article excerpt

Byline: David Elfin, THE WASHINGTON TIMES

As the Atlanta Thrashers skated yesterday morning, pucks thudded off the boards in empty MCI Center with echoes as deep as their grief.

A day earlier, the Thrashers were in Elmira, Ontario, for the emotional funeral of teammate Dan Snyder, who died last Sunday from injuries sustained in a Sept. 29 crash of a car driven by Atlanta star Dany Heatley. But yesterday the Thrashers were back at work preparing for last night's game against the Washington Capitals, which turned into a 4-3 victory.

"The best place for us to be right now is on the ice," said Thrashers coach Bob Hartley, who broke down during his eulogy at Friday's memorial service. "That's where we're basically able to move on. There have been lots of sad faces, lots of crying, but when it's time to put on the skates, the boys have been outstanding. Time is what we need the most. Every day we'll get better. We play for Snydes. If you can't draw motivation out of this, you're in the wrong business."

With Snyder's jersey hanging in his locker and a patch with his No. 37 on their uniforms, the Thrashers found that motivation in Thursday's home opener. After a two-minute video tribute to Snyder that goalie Byron Dafoe said didn't leave a dry eye in Philips Arena, Atlanta beat Columbus 2-1 on Chris Tamer's goal with 2:24 remaining - just the 20th goal for the veteran defenseman in his 607 games. Thrashers assistant equipment manager Joe Guilmet, Snyder's former roommate, presented the Snyder family with the puck Friday.

"[Thursday's game] was one of the toughest things I've had to go through, but once the game starts, your mind goes to hockey mode," Tamer said. "Dan was always smiling, always laughing and always sticking up for guys on the ice. He would have been a valuable player on any team. He could change the momentum of a game with the way he hit people. He was like [Washington left wing] Steve Konowalchuk, a guy you don't want to play against."

Snyder made it the hard way. The undrafted, 6-foot, 190-pound center played four years of junior hockey and two years in the International Hockey League before making his NHL debut during the final week of the 2001 season. At 25, he finally established himself as an Atlanta regular in the second half of last season and was slated to be the fourth-line center when he returned next month from ankle surgery just before training camp.

"Dan had just hit that level where he was going to be a mainstay in the NHL," Dafoe said. "He had clawed his way up. I have no doubt that he would have become a force to be reckoned with because of his attitude and work ethic. …