ED SNIDER hopped a cyber ride this weekend, Lauren Hart holding up her cellphone toward the singing fat lady he and his team made an eternal hockey symbol, an unintended symbol of his world view as well, even before he personally gave those Rooskies hell.
"If Ed Snider can't be in the arena," Hart told anyone who asked, "I'll bring the arena to him."
Up on the scoreboard, Kate Smith was still a robust 67 years old, belting out her piece of God Bless America. Grainy a bit but no worse for the wear, she and her voice suspended forever in 1974, forever in time, or at least for as long as the Flyers play hockey.
Snider also occupies that space, but he is no specter. He was resting in his Santa Barbara home, we were told, the recurrence of an undisclosed cancer that he thought was licked instead pinning him a continent away from where he wants to be, where he should be, where he always was at this time of year, through good times and bad.
And these were good times. The latest edition of his hockey team had just achieved what few thought possible at season's start, qualifying for the playoffs. Reeling off a second-half surge with diligence, resilience and increased smarts, reflecting the stoic and intellectual approach of a first-year coach whom Fred Shero would most definitely appreciate.
Since returning from a visit to his home during an ill-fated West Coast swing in December, this team has racked up points in 32 of the 44 games it played before Sunday's regular-season finale, posting a 25-12-7 record, providing Snider a welcome respite from the battle of his life. In better health, he would have been in the locker room after Saturday's 3-1 victory over Pittsburgh, congratulating individually every player from Claude Giroux to Ryan White, issuing unfettered optimism about his latest team's chances in some crowded corner of that room, referencing some season in the franchise's 49-year history, providing detail as if it occurred the previous season.
Some, like Giroux, like Wayne Simmonds and Jake Voracek, have been around long enough to feel that void. Others, like Sam Gagner, Radko Gudas and White, have been made aware of it. All, though, know him only as an aging - and now ill - man in his 80s, not the fiery fixture who cast such a dominant shadow over our local sports landscape.
He built things, built entire companies, made millions and millions more through those endeavors than he has over 49 seasons as this team's czar. In a town where team ownership has often been unidentifiable and often seemingly indifferent, he has been front and center through the best and worst of his team's times, hiring, firing, signing big names and making bold moves. He gave his teams everything they could possibly ask for, with the possible and glaring exception being another Bernie Parent. Not that he didn't try. Ron Hextall nearly won that third one for him all by himself, and there will always be that what-if attached to the untimely death of Pelle Lindbergh.
As Simmonds said Saturday in referencing Snider's first-ever absence from a team photo shot, "When you look in the hallway and it's the first time he's not in a picture - it sucks to see it happen.
"We're playing to make the playoffs for him. Obviously, like Mr. Snider, we think we got more in the tank. I think we're playing Washington in the first round here so we're going to dedicate this to Mr. Snider. We're going to play our asses off."
After the last of those six failed Stanley Cup Final series traced mostly to goalie play, Snider even allowed what would have been unthinkable back in the day when he stared down the Red Army team. The Flyers not only spent big on a goaltender - they spent big on a Russian goaltender!
Ilya Bryzgalov was an unmitigated disaster, of course, but the point is that Snider, even in the seventh and eighth decades of his life, and contrary to popular belief, adapted to a changed hockey world. It takes about 10 minutes of watching Russian-born defenseman Ivan Provorov and even fewer talking to the 19-year-old first-round pick to understand he will have a prominent role with Snider's Flyers in the not-distant future.
Maybe even as their future captain.
The seeds of that future arrived a month before that meeting with this team, the last contact he's had with this group. Shayne Gostisbehere has been the catalyst to this playoff run since being promoted in early November, allowing for the long-range plan Snider endorsed upon hiring Hextall as his general manager to accelerate.
We will get a glimpse of how much over the next two weeks when the Flyers attempt to knock off the NHL's best team, the Washington Capitals. If he was there after Saturday's victory, we would have heard Snider gushing like a teenager about the moxie and grit of this latest edition, reminding us all that his last near-miss came with a seventh seed six years ago that made the postseason on the very last day.
That he wasn't, that we didn't . . .
Well, as Simmonds said, it sucks.