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Thursday, March 21
Jackets, NHL remember Brittanie Cecil

Associated Press

COLUMBUS, Ohio -- Players from both teams wore heart-shaped stickers on the backs of their helmets that bore Brittanie Cecil's initials. The flags outside the arena were at half-staff.

Before the puck dropped Thursday night for Columbus' game against Detroit, there was a moment of silence for Brittanie, the 13-year-old girl who died after being hit by a puck during the Blue Jackets' previous home game. Detroit won 3-2 on Sergei Fedorov's second goal of the game, 25 seconds into overtime.

"It's on lots of people's minds," Blue Jackets president and general manager Doug MacLean said. "I got an e-mail from Scotland, where they're having a moment of silence at a hockey game. All over the world. It's front-page news in Australia."

Brittanie died Monday, two days after a deflected shot by Columbus center Espen Knutsen struck her at Nationwide Arena. Her father bought the tickets to the game as an early present for her 14th birthday.

Toward the end of the first period Thursday night, Knutsen received a standing ovation after he failed to score on a breakaway on his first shot of the game.

After the game, Knutsen said he was glad to get through the emotion of the week.

"It was an accident. I can't blame myself," he said. Then he added, "When I saw a puck go over the glass, I thought about it again."

Knutsen said one game won't erase the memory.

"Of course, I'm the one that took the shot," he said. "I'm the one who has to live with that."

MacLean will represent the Blue Jackets on Friday at Brittanie's funeral in her small hometown near Dayton. He said he got an inkling of how much people were grieving when he arrived in Minnesota on Wednesday night for a game with the Wild.

MacLean said his driver from the airport mentioned how different the game would be and MacLean asked if he meant because the two teams are rivals.

"Oh, no. Because of the little girl," the driver said.

There was little about the game that was different from the 36 others that preceded it this year at Nationwide Arena. A reminder to spectators to watch out for flying pucks was read twice before the first three minutes of the game had elapsed.

The fans -- almost a 50-50 split of those rooting for the Red Wings and the Blue Jackets -- were as loud as at any other game. During the national anthem, several fans shouted, "Go Wings!"

Jeff Lagerquist drove two hours from Findlay along with his 8-year-old son. Lagerquist said he and his son frequently attend hockey games and he did not believe that there was much danger being a spectator.

"We take more of a chance driving our car down here," he said.

Earlier in the day, the Blue Jackets players had said they were thinking of the family even as they prepared for the NHL's best team.

"I can't imagine the grief they're going through at this time," goalie Ron Tugnutt said, referring to the girl's parents. "It has affected me, no doubt about it.

"Everybody loves their children so much and just thinking that my children are at the game. ... I'll think about them that much more."

Most of the players have children of their own. They were shaken by the experience of witnessing the puck flying over the glass.

"Anytime you see a puck go out, you cringe a bit," center Tyler Wright said. "When she got up and she was walking, you thought, 'Thank God, she's all right.' Then to find out a couple of days later that something tragic happened, it's just unthinkable."

Wright, who has a 3-year-old daughter and a 1-year-old son, struggled to keep his composure.

"There's a bigger thing out there that we're really worried about," coach Dave King said. "For all the guys, I don't think hockey means very much today. That's just the way it is.

Forward Geoff Sanderson paused as he said his wife and 2-year-old son sit one section away from where Brittanie was hit.

"It's just weighing so much on everyone's mind," he said. "The game takes a backseat and makes you think how unimportant it really is."

Throughout their two seasons of existence, the Blue Jackets have been a model of a successful modern sports franchise. Despite a losing record on the ice, the team has had 51 consecutive sellouts at Nationwide Arena.

The players have become celebrities and owner John H. McConnell receives a standing ovation from the packed crowds every time he appears on one of the arena's mammoth video boards that are suspended over mid-ice.

"Having her memory with us the rest of the season is important," forward Ray Whitney said of the stickers. "As players, we didn't know her, but this is a way of sharing our grief."

King said the sticker was a fitting way of remembering the eighth-grader who loved soccer, cheerleading and shopping.

"We have to do as much as we can to help the family through this thing," he said. "Our players are very proud to wear that sticker on their helmet because it'll help us all remember a terrific little girl."

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 Brittanie remembered
Espen Knutsen has had a difficult time getting through the emotions of the week.

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