- The Washington Times - Friday, October 10, 2003

Washington Capitals wing Mike Grier has some idea what the Atlanta Thrashers are going through.

Thrashers wing Dany Heatley has been charged with vehicular homicide for being the driver in a car crash Sept.29 that resulted in the death of teammate Dan Snyder from brain injuries six days later.

Grier was a junior at Boston University when freshman Travis Roy went out to skate his first shift, crashed into the boards, cracked a vertebrae and was paralyzed from the neck down.

“It makes you realize how small the game is,” said Grier, recalling the 1995 incident. “They are situations that make you realize the game isn’t the most important thing. Life is precious and valuable. That made the season extremely difficult for everyone.”

The Terriers didn’t cancel any games.

“It’s definitely difficult to [play again],” he said. “But at the same time, it’s something you love to do. You could just stop your life when something like that happens. But I know Travis told us to go out there and play for him and win some games for him and try to keep our lives as normal as possible.”

The Thrashers, who face the Caps tonight at MCI Center, are seeking some sort of normalcy while grieving over the death of Snyder, 25. Heatley, one of the NHL’s brightest young stars, was reported driving his Ferrari some 80 mph on a two-lane residential road. The car spun and smashed into a brick and wrought-iron fence.

The Thrashers opened their season with an emotional and somewhat cathartic 2-1 victory over Nashville on Thursday night in Atlanta. Members of the team attended Snyder’s funeral yesterday in Elmira, Ontario, and flew here last night. Among those attending the service was NHL commissioner Gary Bettman.

“The Snyder family wanted us to play,” Atlanta coach Bob Hartley said. “We did this for Dan Snyder and his family and Dany Heatley and his family. It’s been one of the toughest weeks of our lives. There still will be days when we’ll feel sad and we’ll have to pull some strength from somewhere.”

Not only has tragedy been devastating in Atlanta, it has caused the entire NHL to take pause. Caps goalie Olie Kolzig is a close friend of Byron Dafoe, a Thrashers goalie and former Capital. The two were supposed to have dinner together last night, but those plans were put on hold because of the funeral.

“It was just an unfortunate case of somebody showing off or whatever,” said Kolzig, who plans to use the tragedy as a personal warning and slow down on highways. “It cost one person his life and might cost the other person the rest of his life, as far as freedom.

“Now you see, as a hockey player sometimes we think we are invincible. I think athletes in general think they are invincible. It takes something like this to bring you back to reality and not take things for granted.”

Heatley, 22, who made his first All-Star team last season, could face up to 15 years in prison if convicted.

The Georgia Bureau of Investigation’s crime lab yesterday said Heatley was not drunk when he crashed. He had consumed alcohol before the accident but not enough to accurately register on a crime lab test. Test results haven’t been completed to determine whether Heatley consumed drugs.

Heatley sustained torn knee ligaments in the crash and is out indefinitely. He faces four misdemeanor counts, each punishable by up to a year in prison, and is free on $50,000 bond.

Washington coach Bruce Cassidy has managed through tragedy. While coaching in the minors in Indianapolis, one of his players who had a history of drug problems overdosed and died in the offseason. Cassidy was forced to steady the club through the emotional roller coaster.

“I don’t think it is something that can be brought up much,” Cassidy said. “I think the players have to deal with it in their own time. It is addressed early on. You go to the funeral. After that, you have to be business as usual. I know it sounds harsh, but that’s the way you have to look at it.”

Several Caps plan to express their sympathy to the Thrashers before and after tonight’s game. But during the game, Atlanta will be just another opponent.

“It can either make them or break them,” Kolzig said of the tragedy. “It’s a real sensitive thing. It depends on a person’s makeup, but I think [Snyder and Heatley] would want them to keep playing and playing hard. But it is going to be tough.

“I couldn’t imagine being in that position and how that would affect your team. Here you are worried about teammates — one of them dies and the other you might not see for 15 years. And with a team that had so much promise. It could be their rallying cry or they could be devastated the whole year.”

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