Back on March 16, 2002 one family saw their lives altered by a errant puck. 13 year-old Brittanie Cecil was struck in the head by a shot off the stick of Blue Jackets star player Espen Knutsen. Knutsen’s shot deflected off a stick and fired into the crowd striking Cecil just above her nose. Two days later she died because of the blow.
Because of that incident, the NHL had safety netting installed in every rink in order to better protect the fans. Both Cecil’s family and Knutsen saw their futures changed because of what happened and yesterday, the two finally met to gain closure over what happened. Mike Wagner of The Columbus Dispatch tells the story of Knutsen’s meeting with Cecil’s mother Jody Naudascher and her family, a sad and touching must-read.
Espen Knutsen, the former Columbus Blue Jackets player who shot the puck that struck Brittanie, embraced the trembling mother the moment he saw her, and the two began the closure that had escaped them both.
“I don’t hold you responsible; I never did,” Naudascher told Knutsen at Nationwide Arena during a private, one-hour meeting. “It was an accident, and you should never have blamed yourself for anything. I wanted to tell you all this back then.”
It’s heart breaking to this day to read about what happened to Brittanie Cecil and just how suddenly and saddening it was to see what happened to her and the rest of her family over such a freak thing. Knutsen’s career in the NHL after that day was never the same as the guilt he held over being the guy who shot the puck that careened into the stands and killed never truly went away.
While it was nagging injuries that led to Knutsen spending his final year in the NHL during the 2003-2004 season playing in just 14 games, you could assume, and perhaps rightly, that his head just wasn’t in it anymore. Knutsen went on to play just a smattering of games over the following year in Sweden before retiring.
It’s hard to see and read about what Cecil’s family have dealt with following Brittanie’s death but it makes you feel better for the human condition to see the Naudascher’s and Knutsen finally come together after eight years to clear the air over that tragic night in Columbus.