Checking in from Buffalo as I wait to return to Atlanta. It took me exactly 30 minutes to check out of my hotel, return the rental car, check in for the flight, clear security and arrive at my gate – three hours before departure. Does that happen in Atlanta? So, plenty of time to post this blog, write a notebook of items leftover from the weekend and work on a Ron Hainsey story that will appear Wednesday/Thursday.
I had never met the Snyder family before this weekend. I took over as Pro Sports Editor shortly after the accident, so I was involved in a lot of the coverage and the Dany Heatley trial. When I arrived at the Woolwich Community Center in Elmira on Sunday I was quite early. Children were already lining up to get in, two hours before the doors opened. I was directed down a hallway between the two rinks and almost immediately met by a woman, with a walkie-talkie in hand, making sure every detail was under control before the Thrashers arrived. It was LuAnn Snyder, Dan’s mother. She couldn’t have been more gracious to me – and all those there for the event.
I got my first real look at what this event meant to the Snyders and the community when the team bus arrived an hour or so later. LuAnn greeted the bus and hugged every player and team official as the de-boarded. Dan’s father Graham was there, as well, with handshake. Ilya Kovalchuk got a special hug from LuAnn and a greeting of ‘There is my boy!” More on that later.
The Thrashers dressed and practiced at the Dan Snyder Memorial Arena at the community center in front of about 1,500 fans. I’m told they were to limit the attendance to the capacity of 1,450 but it seemed like more than that, from kids to adults.
After practice players tossed the practice pucks to children in the crowd. It was hours later, as I sat in the coaches office of the Elmira Sugar Kings, the Tier II junior team that plays at the center, writing my story, that I found out the team had given away most of the practice pucks. They had to scramble to come up pucks before the Sugar Kings game that night. Just a funny footnote.
The folks in the community went above and beyond to be welcoming and helpful. I took photos of the event for the paper but had no way to get them out of my camera. The GM of the Sugar Kings and a local photographer spent more than an hour helping me. I also wrote the story there as the coaches got ready for the game that night. That was hospitality.
A bit about the Thrashers involvement. They practiced longer than expected and after lunch signed autographs. There were to be two lines with half the Thrashers in each. The team was to stay until 3:45 p.m. when they had to leave to catch their flight to Montreal. But every person there was allowed to go through both lines and the team was still signing at 4:20 p.m. Little things like that mean a lot.
I waited to talk to LuAnn until the day was almost over. I wanted to stay out of her way, but also give her a chance to take everything in before speaking about it. She was again gracious. When I brought up the subject of Dan’s watch, broken in three pieces in the accident, she related the story of how she kept a piece, gave one to Bob Hartley and another to Kovalchuk. She started to cry, but made it through. To tell you the truth, I had tears in my eyes as well by the time she was done.
Why Kovalchuk, I asked?
Here is what she said. “I told Kovy that he was the future of the franchise. He was going to be the glue that holds the franchise together.”
And then she said this about the Thrashers captain: “He’s my boy. He’s a sweetheart. He’s an absolutely wonderful person. People that don’t get to know him on a personal level like we have, don’t realize what a wonderful, wonderful, genuine person he is. He’s a superstar hockey player, but he’s a father, a friend and he’s always, always been so good to us. He’s a wonderful kid, but he’s first and foremost a wonderful person and the fans have reason to love him.”
Those are some of the highlights that I wanted to pass on.
OK, let’s get back to a little hockey.
There is plenty reason so far to think the penalty kill is headed in the right direction. Marty Reasoner, Todd White, Pavel Kubina and Christoph Schubert have stood out to me. Schubert was excellent on the 5-on-3 kill in Buffalo on Saturday.
Having two separate power play units is also paying off. The transitions have been a benefit.
The shots-on-goal situation is troubling, I think. The Thrashers have been outshot in every game this year. Ondrej Pavelec and Johan Hedberg have stood tall and that’s one reason they are 4-1. At one point Saturday, the Thrashers held a 12-1 shots advantage and ended up being outshot be a considerable margin.
I’m doing a little more research and some interviewing, but the face-offs are something I will take a closer look at in the near future.
Not much to comment on here, but let me know what you think about the special teams or the team’s start. I asked both John Anderson and Don Waddell if they were surprised by the start, but they won’t admit anything more than they expect to win every time out.