March 21, 2002 -- The death of a young hockey fan, who died after being hit by a puck Monday, shocked sports fans across the country. The tragedy has been called a freak accident by many — but one study says pucks hit spectators all of the time.
Brittanie Cecil, 13, died on Monday, two days after a hockey puck struck her in the forehead during a National Hockey League game in Columbus, Ohio.
The NHL says it doesn't keep statistics, but the medical director of the MCI arena in Washington, D.C., has conducted a five-year study about the safety of spectators at hockey games. Dr. Dave Milzman, who is also a professor at Georgetown University's Medical School, says pucks hit three to four people at an average game, one of whom needs stitches or more serious medical treatment.
"Actually it could be higher," said Milzman on ABCNEWS' Good Morning America. Milzman said hockey could be a dangerous spectator sport because the action is so fast-paced. "The majority of people don't know it's [the puck] coming at them."
At every arena, fans are warned to be careful of flying pucks, which can come off a player's stick at more than 100 miles per hour. On Saturday, a slapshot by the Blue Jackets' Epsen Knutsen was apparently deflected by a defenseman's stick, and the puck soared over the 8-foot-high Plexiglas barrier at Nationwide Arena. It went into the stands behind the goal, hitting Cecil in the forehead. The impact was so great that it also bounced into two fans nearby, hard enough to draw blood.
Despite a fractured skull, Cecil was able to walk to the first aid station. But in the hospital, there were complications. The coroner said she had a rare injury to an artery that was damaged when her head snapped back. The damage caused clotting in the artery and swelling in her brain.
ABCNEWS' Dr. Nancy Snyderman said the skull fracture didn't do the real damage — which became evident hours later."The front of her brain was fine in the beginning, she was fine," Snyderman said. "She was conscious after it happened, but slowly the blood vessel was shearing, blocked off and she had a major stroke and then went like that," she said.
Cecil is the first fan to die at an NHL game, but pucks have killed three people at lower-level games.
Too Close for Comfort
Compared to most other sports, hockey fans are closer to the action, and in hockey, the action often gets rough. The wife of Wayne Gretzky, on of the sport's all-time greats, was slightly hurt when a Plexiglas was dislodged and struck her at one of his games a few years back.
But pucks are the bigger danger. The National Hockey League, which has done some soul-searching since Cecil's death, says it will "look at everything," to make sure fans are safe. NHL spokesman Frank Brown said Wednesday there would be more warnings of the dangers of flying pucks in public address announcements and on scoreboards.
Cecil, a cheerleader, soccer player, and honor student received the hockey game tickets as a birthday present. She would have turned 14 Wednesday.