On the 55th day of the NHL lockout, Philadelphia Flyers owner Ed Snider finally had a good reason to hit the rink.
Snider attended the grand opening of the fourth refurbished city rink as part of his youth hockey foundation, which provides free skating programs, ice hockey instruction, equipment and academic services to inner-city children.
The neglected, open-air rinks have been transformed as part of a $13 million restoration project into reconstructed, closed rinks worthy of an NHL practice facility.
Snider, the Flyers' founder and chairman, has often said he wants the project to become his true legacy. The foundation's services are targeted for inner-city boys and girls who otherwise would not have the opportunity to learn to skate or to play ice hockey. The program has rapidly grown to include over 3,000 students.
''When I see what we've accomplished with these four magnificent, beautiful rinks, I have a great deal of pride seeing this happen,'' Snider said Friday night. ''It's become a very big part of my life.''
But nothing is as big as running the Flyers. The Flyers, who won the Stanley Cup in 1974 and 1975, would have been off Friday night with a date against Carolina on Saturday at the Wells Fargo Center. Instead, the 55-day lockout has forced the cancellation of 327 regular-season games, including the New Year's Day Winter Classic in Michigan, and ensured that a full season won't be played.
''I'm awfully disappointed that we're not playing hockey, but there's not a thing I can do about it except just keep my fingers crossed and hope somehow it can come together,'' Snider said.
He declined to otherwise discuss the labor strife.
Mayor Michael Nutter joined Snider and hundreds of kids at the dedication of the Tarken Ice Rink in northeast Philadelphia. Snider founded his organization in 2005 and jumped into action when budget cuts were set to close three city ice rinks unless private funding could be found. Snider contributed $6.5 million to match a grant from the Commonwealth's Redevelopment Assistance Capital Program. Early last year, Snider Hockey reached a 20-year agreement with the city and the Philadelphia Industrial Development Corporation to extend its partnership through 2030.
The rinks include classrooms and learning labs that provide year-round afterschool programming. Snider would like to expand the program into areas outside of Philadelphia like Chester and Allentown.
''I think through the years, you're going to see it become a much bigger program. Our goal is 10,000 kids,'' Snider said. ''This is nothing to do with my profession. This has to do with my desire to help inner-city kids. I get such satisfaction when I get letters from kids and their parents and how much they've accomplished. I can't think of any other way that I could be more satisfied, except maybe another Cup.''
It's hard to say if the Flyers, or any other team, will get a chance this season to play for the Stanley Cup.
''I sure hope so,'' Snider said.
Nutter said the city needs the Flyers to start playing again.
''Of course they do, they provide jobs and economic vitality,'' he said.
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