A lot of heart for hometown hockey

Having spent a life filled with hockey on and off the ice, Jeff Snyder has decided it is time to take a step back from the rink and enjoy some well-deserved time off.

“It’s been a long, long run, but a very good run. I’ve really enjoyed it,” said Snyder, who stepped down from his most recent role, director of hockey operations for the Elmira Sugar Kings Junior B team.

Since he was introduced to the sport by his older brother Graham in 1971, hockey has had a large role in Snyder’s life. Inspired by watching his older brother play for the Sugar Kings, Snyder made it a goal to also join him on the ice.

“I guess I grew up loving hockey,” said Snyder. “My brother was on the Sugar King team in 1971… so I grew up watching them play and it really fueled my desire to be a Sugar King.”

After joining the team himself in 1979, Snyder’s career as a player took him through four seasons and three different teams. In 1996 Snyder began a new chapter of his hockey career with the same team that started it, as the general manager and head coach of the Sugar Kings.

“That just continued on after once I was done playing, I got to do that in Elmira as well,” said Snyder.

Snyder’s coaching career has seen him lead the Sugar Kings to their first Sutherland Cup in 1997 to coaching OHL teams and even two Paralympic Games where they brought home a gold. Snyder recounts that out of all the games and memories, helping the Sugar Kings win the Sutherland Cup is one that he’ll carry forever.

“There’s a few, but I think probably the first time that the Sugar Kings won the Sutherland Cup in 1997. I think that always sticks out because the Sugar Kings never won the Sutherland Cup before,” said Snyder. “To be able to be from Elmira and be involved in the first team that won the cup was really exciting.”

To date the Sugar Kings have taken home the Sutherland Cup four times, Snyder has been a part of the team for two of those wins. Being able to have had such a positive impact on the hockey team that started him on his own hockey journey has been a source of pride for Snyder.

“I think by winning in ’97, that just raised the skirting organization to a different level a little bit,” said Snyder. “They have had great people running the organization since then and have been a quality team ever since then. I’m very proud of the fact that I maybe had a little bit of a part in getting them on the right track.”

Over the years Snyder has learned a thing or two about coaching hockey teams. The one factor he advises every coach must have is communication.

“Communication is key,” said Snyder. “I think you have to be able to relate to your players and communicate to them in a way that they understand. When you’re telling them their role on the team or your expectations for them, you have to be very clear about that. I think that’s a huge part of it.”

With hockey having such a strong place in Snyder’s life, it was a tough decision to leave. Snyder attributes the final push to making up his mind to the COVID-19 pandemic and its impact on local sports.

“It’s always difficult to know when the right time is to step away. I have been thinking about it for a couple years… I just felt like now was the time,” said Snyder. “To be honest COVID had a little bit of [an impact]. It’s been pretty frustrating being in hockey the last year and a half.”

But Snyder is leaving the team in good hands, with Scott McMillan recently becoming the new director of hockey operations and Kevin Bloch as general manager, the Kings are looking as competitive as ever.

“We have great people in the organization to help take over,” said Snyder. “I feel super confident that [McMillan] will do a great job, Kevin Bloch who worked with me for most of my time at Elmira stayed on as GM. So I feel really good with those two guys running the organization going forward.”

Those interested in reading more about Snyder and the other hockey names that have proved their worth while wearing the Sugar Kings jersey can look forward to reading Once a King, Always a King. The book, which traces the team’s history up until today, is being made available by the Sugar Kings for $20 to raise the much needed funds lost by the pandemic. For more information and to order a copy, email Scott Basler at coachscottb@outlook.com .

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