Fan’s death led to NHL’s protective netting policy
After the 2001-02 NHL season, the league was in a position no league ever wants to be in — wondering what it should do to prevent another fan from dying at one of its games.
On March 16, 2002, 13-year-old Brittanie Cecil was attending a Blue Jackets home game when Flames defenseman Derek Morris deflected a slap shot from Espen Knutsen. The puck flew into the stands and struck Cecil in the head. Two days later, Cecil died from complications stemming from her injury.
At the owners’ meetings after that season, the league instituted a policy — protective netting in front of the crowd behind each goal.
The nets begin at the curve of the boards and extend about 18 feet high above the boards and are meant to prevent the deflected slap shots from entering the stands.
The move was met with controversy at the time as some fans thought the nets would ruin the experience of watching a game.
“After three minutes people won’t know it’s there,” Commissioner Gary Bettman said at the time.
Bettman’s words turned out to be truer than he might have thought. The nets have become as ingrained in the NHL fan experience as giant video boards and sweaters.
The nets haven’t prevented all injuries.
Two fans recently sued the United Center in 2014 over injuries they sustained during playoff games. One fan, Gerald Green, was struck in the head during a game against the Wild in May 2014 while another, Patricia Higgins, was struck in the face June 12, 2013.
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