Before he walked into the Flyers' locker room Monday night and addressed the team after Game 3 of their playoff series against Washington, Jay Snider said it would be one of the most emotional moments of his life.
"Normally," he said with conviction and deep admiration, "it would be Dad in there."
He was talking about Ed Snider, the Flyers chairman and cofounder who died of bladder cancer April 11 at age 83.
During most of his 50 years with the team, Snider would walk from locker to locker after each home game, get to know the players, and, whether they won or lost, thank them for their effort.
At a Rittenhouse Square restaurant six hours before Monday's opening faceoff, Jay Snider said he and four of his five siblings would be in the locker room after the game. He said he planned to tell the players his father was "so proud of this team and the way they battled and what they did after Christmas."
They climbed past four teams and secured an Eastern Conference playoff berth.
Snider, 58, a successful businessman who lives in Los Angeles, paused.
"He said to me on many occasions, 'I just wish I was going to see what happens with this team,' " Snider said. ". . . The team is building and is going to add pieces - skilled pieces - down the road. But the grit and the drive and what the coach has done, he said to me at least five times, 'Boy, I wish I was going to be here to see this.' "
He said his father was particularly enamored with Shayne Gostsibehere, the Flyers' dynamic rookie defenseman.
"Dad was so excited about him," Snider said. "He said, 'My God, I can't believe I'm not going to see this guy's career.' He was so excited about him. Mark Howe was a great defenseman, but we never had one like this that we drafted."
Monday marked the Flyers' first home game since Snider's death.
Outside the Wells Fargo Center, a humongous banner hung from the building as a tribute. It had a photo of Snider superimposed on the Flyers' logo. Beneath it was his signature and the words "A FLYER FOREVER."
Snider's initials - EMS, for Edward Malcolm Snider - were painted on the ice behind both nets. Fans were given orange T-shirts with Snider's silhouette in the middle of the team's logo.
A stirring video of Snider was shown before the game. There was Snider, wearing thick, black glasses, smiling with broadcaster Gene Hart. There he was with his arm draped around a gap-toothed Bobby Clarke; gathering with his family for a photo; posing with young players from the Ed Snider Youth Hockey Foundation; hugging the Stanley Cup with Clarke and Bernie Parent.
At the end of the scoreboard presentation was a quote from captain Claude Giroux: "He is the Philadelphia Flyers," and a video of Snider walking down the Spectrum tunnel.
The fans, all standing, many wiping their eyes, shook the building with applause.
A teary Lauren Hart then sang "God Bless America" and when it was over and she turned around and walked off the ice, fans could see she was wearing a Flyers jersey with No. 67 on the back (in honor of the Flyers' first season) and SNIDER above the numbers.
The Flyers played with heavy hearts.
"You have to embrace those emotions and that energy; harness it and have a great start to this hockey game," coach Dave Hakstol said before the game.
Hakstol said his players had a special bond with Snider.
"There's a good number of players in our locker room who have known Mr. Snider for many years, and during that time have developed a very close relationship with him," Hakstol said.
On a West Coast trip earlier this season, the players and coaching staff visited Snider at his mansion in Montecito, Calif., on Dec. 31. It was the last time they were together.
Jay Snider, who served as the Flyers' president from 1983 to 1994, said that his father was in unbearable pain that day but that the visit was therapeutic for him.
"He rallied for that, and I saw him do it on a few other occasions, where somebody came to see him or he got a certain phone call," Snider said. "I talked to him after that day [when the Flyers visited] and it was extraordinarily hard from a pain standpoint. He had a lot of difficulty standing and sitting. He had to fight through pain every day for months and months."
Snider said his father was being administered morphine for pain and he doesn't believe he knew the Flyers made the playoffs when they beat Pittsburgh on the next-to-last day of the regular season. "But he passed away after our last [regular-season game] at 12:40 a.m. Even though he was not conscious of what was going on around him in those last few days, there's something in me that makes me think he set an internal clock - the way a person does when they set their alarm clock and wake up just before it goes off."
He said he believes that "internal alarm clock" enabled his father to live until the end of the regular season.
A private ceremony was held for the Flyers' chairman last Thursday in Bala Cynwyd. A public celebration of his life will take place Thursday at 1 p.m. at the Wells Fargo Center. Jay Snider and Clarke will be among the speakers.
Commissioner Gary Bettman attended Monday's game.
"The NHL family . . . and fans, especially here in Philadelphia, suffered a huge loss," he said, adding that Snider was a "dynamic visionary who turned Philadelphia into one of the great hockey towns in the world."