Never forget Brittanie

Brittanie Cecil: 1988-2002

Brittanie Cecil: 1988-2002

RANDY SPORTAK, Calgary Sun

, Last Updated: 3:57 PM ET

Brittanie Cecil’s dream as she approached her 14th birthday was to be a lawyer.

When you think about it, she’d now likely be studying for the bar, having gone through her years at college — maybe at nearby Ohio State University where she may have been a cheerleader, another one of her passions as a teenager — and taken that next step.

Or she’d be following another dream.

Maybe as her 24th birthday approached, the straight-A student would be finishing graduate school in another field or having just started out in her career or maybe even be a newlywed or a mother.

Sadly, we’ll never know, which makes the tragedy of March 16, 2002, in Columbus, Ohio, all the worse for those of us who were witness to it.

At the time, it was just another puck over the glass midway through the game between the Columbus Blue Jackets and the Calgary Flames at the Nationwide Arena. Blue Jackets forward Espen Knutsen fired a shot from the top of the circle just as Flames defenceman Derek Morris reached out with his stick in the hopes of poking it away. As a result, the puck deflected into the crowd.

In those days, that was such a common event, which seemed to happen two or three times in a game and was accepted as part of the game as much as a goal or a fight.

Still, whenever a shot puck went into the crowd, as a reporter you watched for the fallout and hoped nobody was hurt. In this case somebody was — and right away, you could see it had struck a young girl. As the ushers and medical personnel rushed toward her, the hearts of everybody in the building sank a little.

Mercifully, at least we all thought within a few minutes, she was fine.

The little blond girl rose to her feet and walked out of the arena’s lower bowl for the necessary medical attention to the applause of the crowd and the players who all were relieved to see she was OK.

The game resumed, and the Blue Jackets skated to a 3-1 victory over a Flames team destined to miss the playoffs again.

Jarome Iginla’s chase for 50 goals and the NHL’s scoring title seemed to be the lone story to follow during their long road trip, while the Brier that took over the Saddledome neared its end.

Then came the news a couple of days later.

That little girl, the one we all watched walk away — and we found out later was proud to have the souvenir puck which hit her — had died.

It’s a name nobody who witnessed it can forget — Brittanie Cecil — and not just because the nets which now protect fans in every NHL arena serve as a reminder.

In the time since, it was good to hear how Knutsen, whose career understandably derailed after that night, met with a family who wanted for years to see him and tell him they never blamed him for the accident.

That kind of closure, even if the pain will never go away, had to be good for them all.

Just like the netting now protecting fans at both ends of all NHL arenas.

Because hopefully, the legacy of Brittanie Cecil will be that nobody ever bears witness to such a tragedy again.

randy.sportak@sunmedia.ca

On Twitter: @SUNRandySportak

 


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