Saturday, December 18, 2010

Peace, at last

As someone still relatively new to Columbus Blue Jackets fandom, I will suggest that the presence of the Columbus Blue Jackets has made a truly lasting impact on the National Hockey League in just two ways.

First, the incredible mixed use Arena District has become a go-to design model for just about every team looking to build an arena these days.  The Blue Jackets apparently host more than their share of team and municipal leaders who are looking for design and land use inspiration - or, perhaps, to copy Columbus outright.  And with good reason: The Arena District (and Nationwide Arena), at 10 years old, is still perhaps the greatest environment in which I've ever seen an indoor sporting event.

The second legacy of the Columbus Blue Jackets, sadly, is the 2002 death of Brittanie Cecil and the resulting mandate from the NHL to place nets behind the goals at both ends of every NHL arena.  (This also was my first exposure to the CBJ, for what it's worth.  I saw the Sports Illustrated that discussed the incident.)  If memory serves correct, the decision to place nets behind the goals was not unanimously hailed throughout the league, but John McConnell didn't care and put them up anyway in Columbus.  The league then followed suit.

Columbus fans know that the precipitating incident was caused by an Espen Knutsen shot that caromed up into the stands after a deflection from a Calgary Flames defender.  Cecil apparently was OK until later after the game, upon which she was taken to a local hospital and passed away.  As I understand it, Knutsen was devastated and never was really the same as a player.  Brittanie's family...well, anything I could say should go without saying.


The Dispatch ran a followup story just this past March after talking to both Cecil's family members and Knutsen.  The two "sides" (Are there really sides in this tragedy?  Is this a dispute?  Regardless, the jargon works for this purpose.) apparently had not communicated in the eight years since Brittanie's death.

With Knutsen coming back from Norway to take part in the CBJ's 10th Anniversary celebration through tonight's CBJ Alumni Night, it probably shouldn't have been a surprise that Cecil's family and Knutsen finally met, talked and found some measure of closure.  And if there was any question about the healing that happened yesterday, the Dispatch reported this statement from the gathering:
"I don't hold you responsible; I never did," [Brittanie's mother, Jody] 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."
Peace.  At last.

4 comments:

  1. On the lighter side of things, coming from a tourist that had never actually been to Columbus before I went to the Arena District, you are correct. It was a blast. It's a fun area to just walk even, with the bridges and the countless stores and shops. Just a great atmosphere.

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  2. This cover is why I cancelled my SI subscription and to this day will not read the magazine. The cover gives the impression that it is Knutsen's fault somehow. I feel it was/is a very cynical, low-class and calculated way to sell magazines at the expense of Knutsen and the Cecil family. A real cheap shot in my book.

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  3. James - I appreciate your point about the SI cover a great deal and don't necessarily disagree with your position.

    At the same time, I hope you appreciate that my posting of the SI cover on this blog was to symbolize my personal exposure to the entire incident as well as suggest the larger impact of Brittanie's passing beyond Central Ohio. I wasn't in Columbus when it happened but heard about it largely through the SI article. I was not trying to be callous, but, for better or worse, it's all part of the team's history.

    ANY discussion of Cecil's death surely reopens old wounds for those who were more directly affected. At the same time, I felt that the unconditional offering of forgiveness was a fair, and fitting, offering of closure to the whole affair...and this blog post, which touched upon not just the meeting and the people involved but that larger impact on hockey.

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  4. No problem at all with you posting the cover. Probably should have said that, sorry for the misunderstanding.

    It was more trying to express what a bunch of D-bags SI are, and how, sadly, stuff like this can bring out the worst in people.

    I remember after the nets went up reading in the Dispatch how the team would get angry calls and letters from season ticket holders about the nets obstructing the views. To his credit, McConnell was very adamant about the nets staying up.

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