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Simon cherishes memories of friend Snyder

Justin Schuver | Thursday, October 16, 2003

One was from Shaker Heights, Ohio, an affluent suburb of Cleveland. The other was from Elmira, Ontario, a tiny Canadian town.

One was a star on the ice for Notre Dame and was drafted in the fifth round of the 1997 National Hockey League Entry Draft by the Chicago Blackhawks. The other was a hard-nosed player in Canadian junior hockey who went undrafted by the NHL before the Atlanta Thrashers signed him as a free agent in 1999.

Ben Simon and Dan Snyder came from different backgrounds, but they each shared a common love of hockey. Eventually joining as teammates on the minor league Orlando Solar Bears and Chicago Wolves and the NHL’s Atlanta Thrashers, they also formed a friendship.

On Sept. 29, that friendship came to an abrupt end.

That night, Dan Snyder was leaving a season-ticket holder event in Atlanta with teammate Dany Heatley. Snyder had recently learned that he would be offered a roster spot on the Thrashers, while Heatley was one of the NHL’s up-and-coming superstars, having led the Thrashers in points during the 2002-03 season.

While driving away from the event, Heatley’s Ferrari crashed into a wall in the Buckhead area of Atlanta, throwing both players from the vehicle. The two were taken to nearby Grady Memorial Hospital, and Snyder was diagnosed with a depressed skull fracture.

Simon, who was in Orlando at training camp with the Nashville Predators (with whom he had signed as a free agent during the offseason), was shocked to hear the news.

“I had just talked with him earlier that night on the phone,” he said.

The Predators were scheduled to play a preseason game against the Thrashers in Atlanta Oct. 3, so Simon was able to talk to Snyder’s family for a while.

“They just looked like they were trying to hold together,” Simon said.

By the night of Oct. 5, Dan Snyder was dead, having never regained consciousness after the crash.

Simon traveled to Elmira, Ont. last Saturday to attend Snyder’s funeral, along with former friends and teammates, including Heatley.

“It just didn’t really seem real,” Simon said. “I was almost waiting for ‘Snydes’ to jump out of the coffin and say ‘Gotcha!’

“He was one of my good buddies, and it’s not something I’ll ever want to go through again.”

Although he is saddened by the loss of his friend, Simon doesn’t blame Heatley.

“Dany’s a real good kid who just made a mistake,” he said. “It’s just unfortunate that his mistake took another person’s life.

“He’s going to have to live with this his whole life and it’s just a real tragedy.”

On June 25, 2000, the Blackhawks traded Simon to the Thrashers. Simon would receive several call-ups to the Atlanta club, but spent most of his time with the Thrashers’ minor-league affiliate in Orlando, and later, Chicago.

A constant through those years was his teammate Dan Snyder. Simon and Snyder won a Turner Cup (the now-defunct International Hockey League championship) in 2001 with the Orlando Solar Bears and a Calder Cup (the American Hockey League championship) with the Chicago Wolves in 2002.

During the Wolves’ playoff run, Simon and Snyder often played on the same line.

Although Simon spent more time in the minor leagues than Snyder, the two were teammates on the Thrashers for a few games in late 2003. In a 4-3 overtime win over the Buffalo Sabres on Feb. 17, Simon scored his first career NHL point on an assist.

The player whose goal he assisted? Dan Snyder.

“There’s so many memories, probably some you can’t print,” Simon said with a laugh. Growing more serious, he recounted the kind of person Snyder was both on and off the ice.

“He was full of life, full of energy,” Simon said. “He was the kind of guy who always wanted to play with and the kind of guy you never wanted to play against.”