Tragically, life still goes on

Last Sunday was a GREAT day.

It began after five hours of sleep the night before, as a result of anchoring the late night ESPNews show followed by an early wake-up call to take 4-year-old Jackson to his 8:40 a.m. learn-to-skate program.

Jack had a pretty good day on ice in his game-worn Darren Pang Chicago Blackhawks sweater.

After Jack's Icky Shuffle skating hour, it was off to Wallingford, Conn., for big brother Brett's' peewee game. After scoring the organization's first goal of the young season the day before, Brett was held scoreless in a 1-0 win. But he did have one sweet neutral-zone stick handling move that lasted five seconds and filled me with exhilaration the rest of the day.

Then it was a little couch time to watch some football, Red Sox-A's Game 4, and Tiger Woods. After that, Malorie and I played a little hoop in the backyard on a picture perfect October afternoon. Basketball is her game. Then it was dinner, followed by the writing of the Western Conference preview that you see below, while keeping an eye on the Braves and Cubs Game 5.

I'd been up for 16 1/2 candy sweet hours, when one simple sentence knocked the wind out of me. While sitting in the recliner having a cold one and watching SportsCenter, a "Special Report" ran across ESPN's BottomLine. ATLANTA THRASHER DAN SNYDER DIES FROM INJURIES SUFFERED IN A SEPTEMBER 29TH CAR ACCIDENT.

He was 25.

I felt shaken, breathless and alone in the dark. A young, enthusiastic hockey player was dead. The young son, the undrafted, overachieving role model, friend and victim of Dany Heatley's now fatal misjudgment. The pain was everywhere. Heavy and deep.

Considering the contents of my day, my thoughts went right to Snyder's parents. The pain of losing a child, I can only imagine, is the heaviest burden a human can carry. I actually think about losing one of my kids almost everyday. I think it's a lame defense mechanism I use, thinking it would lessen the bottomless, lifelong pain that would rain down every day. I can't imagine being able to get out of bed. This is the world of Graham and Luanne Snyder.

Next, I thought of Heatley. The 22-year-old kid who drove too fast one too many times. The depressed, regretful dread he felt while Snyder was unconscious just rose to highest power. I've known Dany Heatley for his two NHL seasons. I interviewed him for this column early in his rookie year, met him for the first time the spring of that season, interviewed him on ESPN Radio two summers ago, and interviewed him before and certainly after last year's All Star game, when he introduced himself to a national television audience and a culture of hockey fans as THE guy the NHL would use as their 21st century star. Talented, humble, well-spoken and photogenic with an endearing goofiness about him. Known as "Heater," most knew his stardom was coming before last year's All-Star game. He is the kind of kid who realizes his impact as a player after everyone else does.

Now what? Knowing Dany, right now he feels that he killed his friend and caused the Snyder family lifelong pain. He bereaves for his friend, swimming in his own regret, while recovering from jaw surgery and major knee surgery. He will cry more tears in the coming months than he has his entire life. Dany Heatley is a great kid who did a stupid thing. What he does now, while he mourns, is get better. Get healthy. Get back to work. Play with the spirit his friend Dan Snyder had. Undrafted and undaunted, Snyder made it to the NHL on will, guts and courage, despite a small stature and skinny legs. The only way Dany Heatley can approach life from this point forward, is to approach life as Dan Snyder did. That's his only option. There are too many people who love him, too many people who can gain from his existence for him not to come back a man complete.

He can give away some of the millions he will make and give away some of the ample hours of free time he will have as an athlete to serve others and serve the memory of Dan Snyder. He can set up a Dan Snyder scholarship fund at Wisconsin for that hockey player who gives all his heart, but just doesn't have enough talent to earn a scholarship. The penance one gives oneself is always more productive and positive than the penance others give. Do I think Heatley should go to jail? I don't. Although, if others in Georgia have for similar circumstances, perhaps it would be unfair. Should he lose his license for 1-2 years? Yes.

Next, I thought of the Atlanta Thrashers, especially general manager Don Waddell. He is one of hockey's good guys, a sound hockey mind that is slowly building the Thrashers into a future Stanley Cup contender. Each year he has added another piece. This was the year Atlanta was going to fight for the 8th spot in the East, probably come up short, but gain valuable experience by finally playing in some meaningful games. Coach Bob Hartley was at Game 5 of the Atlanta Braves-Chicago Cubs NLDS last Sunday night. His cell phone rang, he had a short conversation, and then Hartley buried his face in his hands. Dan Snyder was dead. Everything changed.

And so a young son, friend and teammate is gone. Forever. Just like that. I was still in a daze as I turned off the TV, my mind solely on Dan's mom and dad.

My plan earlier in the evening was to sleep in the basement for a quiet, undisturbed night's sleep after a week of two-, three-hour naps at night (the result of Jack's nightly 3 a.m. mattress hijacking).

But, after the heart-aching news of Dan Snyder, news that rocks you like a small ship at sea, I went upstairs, headed to Brett's room, climbed into bed with him, put my arm around him and held on tight.

Predictions: Western Conference

The Caps will definitely make the playoffs. Like most sportswriters you don't really care or understand the division so please don't even include any of the teams when making predictions.
District of Chaos

The Caps' most important players are all over 30, except for Sergei Gonchar (29), and they are thin on defense. That is the worst combination you can have because that means more chance of injuries and more chance of giving up lots of goals. The Caps are leaning in that direction. If I'm St. Louis, Philadelphia, Vancouver or Colorado, I'd take the contracts of Jaromir Jagr or Robert Lang to get Olaf Kolzig in a trade. The Flyers have a glut of young defenseman to pull it off best.

Hello Hockey God,
I have a quick Fantasy hockey question. Should I trade Saku Koivu for Jason Spezza?

Dansville, N.Y.

I would. I think Spezza's numbers this season will be 24-52-76 points. Koivu will miss some games due to injury this year and finish with 17-39-56 points.

Just wondering, but do you have a picture of Ken the Otter? And if you do can I see a picture?

Katie Kohan

Yes. And no.

Could you give a shout out to my boys on the Typhoons roller hockey team in Palatine, Ill.? Thanks!

Brian Fallon
Schaumburg, Ill.

You mean like, what Jack Black is to Tenacious D, Brian Fallon is to the Typhoons?

Hi John,
You're actually getting an e-mail from a hockey fan in Oklahoma City. I have a question regarding Peter Forsberg. Why would he be considering retirement
when he has become one of the premier players in the league?
Thanks for your time.
Mark A. Hedrick

If a sports television network in Portugal offered me $10 million a year for five years to host "Goat Throwing 2Night," I would probably accept. By the time I was in the final year of my contract, I would start thinking how much I miss the U.S. and how this violent world of Goat Throwing could possibly leave me with an injury where I can't lead an active, healthy life. I would realize I had a net worth of about $20 million and now control my own employment destiny, which is the goal of every worker. But, if E-S-Portugal-N offered me $10 million again, would I keep saying, "Maybe one more year and a few more bucks in the bank. Then I could get TWO TiVo's! THEN I'll go back to my homeland." That's the bottom line of the whole Forsberg issue. One TIVO. Or two.

My son just turned 1 last week. Not that I'm going to push hockey on him, but what's a good age to put a child in skates?
Mike McDowell

I would buy him roller blades first when he is 2 or 3. Have him get used to those for a year on the driveway and then try him on skates at 3 or 4. Also, begin cutting him up a banana to get him in the habit of starting every day with one. It's the secret to long lasting health.

Hello Mr. jb,
Is Mike Richter a Hall of Famer?
Dave Gigar
Newport Beach, Calif.

Not if Rogie Vachon isn't. Richter played 666 games and had 24 career shutouts. Trevor Kidd has 18 career shutouts in 372 games, most with bad teams. I loved watching Mike Richter compete. He was the kind of athlete who turned up his play when things mattered more. That's my kind of guy and worth something when weighing a career. But, to be fair, if Richter is a Hall of Famer, so are Tom Barrasso, Dan Bouchard, Sean Burke, Ron Hextall, Mike Liut, Andy Moog, Chris Osgood, Pete Peeters, possibly Felix Potvin when he's done, John Vanbiesbrouck, Mike Vernon, and Darcy Wakaluk. Wakaluk aside, all the others could argue with their numbers and honors that they had NHL careers in net comparable to Richter.

I have a toe ring question. This girl I thought was my best friend got me a cheap-o photo album and a dollar store toe ring for my birthday, and mailed the package a month late. I've already returned the album for something snappier, but what should I do about the toe ring?
Syracuse, N.Y.

Either mail it to me or the estate of Toe Blake.

John Buccigross is the host of NHL2Night, which airs on ESPN2. His e-mail address -- for questions, comments or cross-checks -- is john.buccigross@espn.com.