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Published: Thursday, 3/21/2002

Toledo fans not worried after death of Blue Jackets fan

BY STEVE JUNGA AND DAN SAEVIG
BLADE SPORTS WRITERS

The tragic death Monday of 13-year-old Brittanie Cecil, who had been struck in the head with a puck during a Columbus Blue Jackets NHL hockey game last Saturday, was on the minds of folks attending last night's Toledo Storm contest at the Sports Arena.

But several Storm fans - seated in the Sports Arena in positions relatively approximate to that of the Cecil girl's seat at Nationwide Arena in Columbus when she was hit - indicated that, although they were now more aware of the potential danger of flying pucks, they viewed the death as more freak accident than commonplace tragedy.

In short, they are willing to accept the risk of being in the line of fire of the frozen rubber discs which often travel 80-90 mph or more.

A coroner's ruling yesterday revealed the Cecil girl, a Dayton-area resident, died from an injury to an artery caused when her head snapped back.

“It was a freak accident,'' said Kim Moore, 26, of Toledo, who attended last night's game with friends and with her daughters, ages 7 years and 7 months. “Yes, the pucks go over, but if you're watching the game, you can see it coming.

“My first rule [for daughter] is: `Duck if you see it coming.' I like to sit here. It's easier to see the goals. I don't think the team should be liable. I brought her here, so it's my responsibility to keep her safe.''

Robert and Mary Eitniear of Walbridge were in the same place (end corner) they've had season tickets for 42 years. Their son was hit by a puck back in the early years, but they've never thought about changing their vantage point to avoid pucks.

“People sit and talk and don't watch the game,'' said Mr. Eitniear, 63. “That's how accidents happen. You see that here.''

“You've got to pay attention and watch where the puck is,'' said Mrs. Eitniear, 66. “We think these are the perfect seats. You don't have to keep turning your head to see everything. You look straight ahead.''

Debbie Whitson, 45, of Bowling Green, attended last night with 10-year-old son Ryan, a fifth-year amateur hockey player.

“I've seen a lot of fans get hit with pucks. It's always hard to see and it's always tragic,'' Whitson said. “But I've never seen anybody get hurt like [Cecil].

“It's easy to get sidetracked with what's going on around you and not know where the puck is all the time. It moves so fast. If you're not always right on it, you're not going to know when it's coming.”

“When it happens, sometimes it can really be bad,'' said Toledoan Randy Edwards, 42, who has attended roughly 25 games this season. “My friend, she got hit with a puck this year. She was hurt pretty bad.

“We're more aware now. It might be a little harder to see, but a [protective] net might be a good idea to prevent something like [Cecil's death] from recurring. I like sitting in the ends. I like being behind the visitors' goalie for two periods.''

Trina Wood, 33, of Perrysburg, is a nine-year season-ticket holder who attended last night with her nephew. She regarded the death as a freak accident.

“People get hit,'' she said, “but usually it's nothing that severe. That was extremely sad. One of those instances of being in the wrong place at the wrong time.

“I'm more aware now, but I've always been told to keep my eye on the puck at all times, so that's what I do. When people get hit it's usually because they're not paying attention, or that it happens so fast that they don't know how to react.''

“In the wake of what has happened, it's certainly going to add awareness to what our standards are and what they should be,” said Troy Ward, senior vice president of hockey operations for the East Coast Hockey League. “This now becomes an owner issue because it involves finances. [ECHL president and chief operating officer] Rick [Adams] and myself will make a recommendation and that will go before the board of directors.”

“As a result of what happened in Columbus, we would certainly want to review our situation,” said Gary Wyse, general manager of the Sports Arena since 1985. “Obviously, our patrons' safety is first and foremost in our thoughts.”

Sports Arena dasher boards are 48 inches high. Glass behind net is 72 inches on top of that.

“How tall is tall enough is anyone's guess as far as the glass is concerned,” Wyse said.



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