Blue Jackets Player Stunned By Young Fan's Death

By JON KRAWCZYNSKI, Associated Press Writer

ST. PAUL, Minn. (AP) - Columbus Blue Jackets center Espen Knutsen, whose deflected shot in a game last weekend led to the death of a 13-year-old girl, said Wednesday he was struggling to deal with the tragedy.

"I think about it all the time," Knutsen told the St. Paul Pioneer Press after a morning workout before the Blue Jackets' night game against the Minnesota Wild. "I think about her family because I have family myself. It was just a horrible accident."

Coach Dave King said all the Blue Jackets are struggling with Brittanie Cecil's death, but Knutsen was taking it especially hard.

"He's really upset about the whole thing," King said. "He was in the act of shooting the puck and it got deflected over the glass. That kind of thing happens. But he's really distressed by it."

Brittanie, of West Alexandria, Ohio, was hit in the head by the deflected shot early in the second period of Columbus's game against Calgary in Columbus.

"We all saw the incident on the ice," King said. "Most of the time you assume they'll be OK."

Brittanie died Monday from a rare injury to an artery that was damaged when her head snapped back, a coroner said Wednesday. The damage to the artery, which runs from the spine to the back of the brain, led to a "vicious cycle" of clotting in the artery and swelling of the brain, said Franklin County Coroner Brad Lewis, who performed the autopsy. He said the artery also might have been slightly torn.

Brittanie would have celebrated her 14th birthday Wednesday.

Nearly all of the Blue Jackets and Wild players declined comment Wednesday morning out of respect for the family, they said.

"It's a tragedy and it's too early to think about anything but Brittanie, her family and her town," Blue Jackets left wing Ray Whitney said. "As an organization, we're deeply saddened and right now we're just sending our thoughts and prayers out to all involved."

The Wild said there would be a moment of silence in Brittanie's memory before the game.

Whitney said a moment of silence was appropriate.

"It shows we're not just going to move on and treat this like a freak accident," Whitney said. "We are going to remember this for a long time."

Knutsen, 30, wanted to play against Minnesota, his coach said.

"His feeling was to just get back to playing again and get busy again," King said.

(Copyright 2002 by The Associated Press. All Rights Reserved.)