The East Coast Hockey League yesterday mandated that all its teams install safety netting above the glass that borders the corners and end zones of league arenas. Teams have been instructed to work with their individual venues, netting manufacturers and suppliers to determine the system best suited to each team's facility.
Installation of the systems must be completed as soon as it is achievable.
The ruling is the result of the March death of 13-year-old Brittanie Cecil, who was struck in the head by a deflected slapshot at a Columbus Blue Jackets National Hockey League game. The NHL and the American Hockey League have already announced that they will require their teams to install netting this season.
“The tragedy in Columbus has made all professional hockey clubs re-evaluate the safety of their fans,” Toledo Storm vice president and general manager Mike Miller said. “The Storm organization as well as the Toledo Sports Arena are discussing what steps should be taken.”
Said Sports Arena general manager Gary Wyse: “I'm not surprised in view of what happened last spring. We'll do all the investigation that we need to do and take appropriate action with the support of the Storm.”
Wyse said he wouldn't want to guess what the cost of a netting system would be or if it might be installed in time for Toledo's home opener Oct. 11 against Peoria.
“We're two months away and there's going to be several dozen buildings that will need to be done,” Wyse said. “I think there's enough time to get it done, but I want to consult with Mike Miller to determine what action will be necessary. It's not simply a matter of picking up the phone and ordering the net. There's also engineering for fastening, set-up and tear down.”
Initial reaction from Storm fans was mixed.
“I don't like it at all,” said Toledoan Marty Guthrie, a hockey season-ticket-holder since 1975 who sits behind the net in Section 3. “They have it at Bowling Green (State University) and you can't see as well. I understand the reasoning behind it, but why now? Why didn't they do it years ago?”
Roy Fisher hasn't missed a professional hockey game at the Sports Arena since 1974. He sits behind the Storm bench - alongside the rink - in Section 17.
In 1987, Fisher was struck in the head by a puck at a Detroit Red Wings' game at Joe Louis Arena. Seven rows from ice level behind the net, the Toledoan was cut for 25 stitches over his left eye.
“It's a good thing,” Fisher said. “I don't care how long you've been going to hockey games, you're not always going to pay attention. It's just that split second when you look away and then look back; there's the puck.”