A 13-year-old Ohio girl is believed to be the first fan to die as the result of being struck by a puck at an NHL game.
Brittanie Cecil died Monday night in Columbus, Ohio, two days after she was struck on the head as she watched a game between the Blue Jackets and Calgary Flames at Nationwide Arena.
Cecil, an eighth-grader, would have turned 14 today. Her father had taken her to the game as an early present, friends said. She lived in West Alexandria, a farming community outside Dayton. The slap shot off the stick of Blue Jackets left wing Espen Knutsen struck her on the left temple after caroming off another spectator Saturday. The girl walked to a nearby exit with the assistance of paramedics, but died Monday at Columbus's Children's Hospital. At the family's request, the hospital was not releasing any information about how long she had been hospitalized or the nature of her injury.
A hospital news release said only that the girl's parents had donated her organs "in the hope that others will be blessed as much as they were by her life."
Knutsen's shot appeared to deflect off the stick of Flames defenseman Derek Morris before hurtling over the glass and 15 rows into the seats, said league spokesman Frank Brown, who viewed video replays of the incident.
In the league's 85-year history, the death is believed to be the first for a fan struck by a puck, according to Brown. "I've been observing professional hockey for 30 years and I've never seen or heard of anything like this happening," he said.
According to the NHL, 20,372,240 fans attended games during the 2000-01 season, an average of 16,563 per game.
Franklin County coroner Brad Lewis said he was assuming the girl's death was caused by blunt trauma to the head, but he would not be certain until he performed the autopsy this morning.
"Our fans mean the world to us and this loss has had a profound effect on the entire Blue Jackets family," General Manager Doug MacLean said.
The Blue Jackets, in their second year of operation, are planning a memorial although specifics had not been worked out as of last night, a team spokesman said.
Because hockey pucks, made of hard rubber and frozen before games, often travel into the seats at a high rate of speed, NHL teams repeatedly warn fans to be on the alert. The backs of ticket stubs also carry warnings.
At MCI Center, fans are reminded through messages on the video screen to be aware of airborne pucks at least six times per game, according to Declan Bolger, the Washington Capitals' senior vice president of business operations. Bolger also said that each time a puck enters the seats, an usher checks for injuries. Paramedics and an ambulance are on site.
"Ninety-nine point nine percent of the time, it's a fun experience resulting in a souvenir puck," Bolger said. "This is a tragic and unfortunate event, but it's obviously freaky and unusual."
Spectators have been killed or seriously injured at minor league and amateur hockey games, where the glass around the rink is not as high. According to the Associated Press, a 21-year-old Canadian man died on March 5, 2000, after being struck by a puck that entered the stands during a South East Manitoba Hockey League game; a 9-year-old girl died in 1979 after being struck in the forehead during another game; and in 1984, a 10-year-old boy in Spokane, Wash., was killed when he was hit by a puck while watching an exhibition game between the Spokane Eagles and Spokane Chiefs.
Hockey is not the only sport in which fans are in danger of injury. At least five spectators have been killed by batted or thrown baseballs, according to baseball's Hall of Fame, and spectators at auto races have been killed by crash debris hurtling into the stands.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.