The crowds of students shrieked as the players stumbled up and down the ice. It was the annual Washburn hockey game, where St. Thomas University’s Forrest Hill Residences face off against Harrington Hall, their on campus rivals. There was six minutes left in the third period when two players were slapping their sticks together, awkwardly battling for the puck. With the quick motion of a stick, the puck flew towards the fans on the Forrest Hill side of the ice.
The spectators cranked back their necks and watched the puck soar over the heads of the first five rows before smashing into the left temple of a first year student in the back row. She winced and grabbed for her head, as people around her scattered to get help. Tiny drops of blood dripped on the concrete as the game as Forrest Hill scored their second goal.
The injured student was taken to hospital and later released.
This year’s Washburn took place last Saturday at the Lady Beaverbrook rink, which, like most arenas in New Brunswick, only has protective spectator netting behind the goal nets.
“I feel the nets on the end of the rinks are necessary and appropriate,” said St. Thomas University Athletic Director Mike Eagles, who’s National Hockey League career spanned over 16 years. “At this time, I do not feel rinks need to be surrounded by netting.”
In Canada, rinks are required to have a three-foot high pain of glass surrounding the ice surface. There is no legislation requiring netting over the glass, except directly behind the goalies. This was adopted in 2003, mimicking the NHL after 13 year old Brittanie Cecil was struck in the head with a stay puck and killed at a Columbus Blue Jackets game in 2002.
This is not the first time someone in the Maritimes has been injured in such an incident. In 1996, Louitta Fisher was hit with a puck, causing brain damage that permanently handicapped her.
The suit between Fisher and the West Colchester Arena in Debert was settled in Nova Scotia Supreme Court in 2012. The settlement amount is unknown.
“People going to ice rinks where hockey is being played need and should know to be aware of the possibility of pucks coming into the stands,” said Eagles.
Second year student and long time hockey fan Conrad Palmer agrees that 360 degree security netting is not necessary.
“The incidents when spectators do get hit by a deflected puck, for example during the Washburn Cup game, are extremly rare, ” said Palmer, who played in Washburn.
“They [the nets] don’t make any difference, besides slightly obstructing the view.”
Still, there are many who would disagree with Eagles and Palmer.
Katelyn Ward spends a lot of time in rinks across New Brunswick watching her eight-year-old brother play Canada’s favorite game. She says spectator netting is a good idea.
“Too many people get hit in the head with pucks unnecessarily,” says Ward, who was also present at Washburn.
“Why not take the extra precaution and put some fence up? It’s not like it’s going to hurt you. You’re still going to see the game, you’re just being safer.”
There are currently no plans to change the legislation for spectator netting in New Brunswick.
“Unless a puck was purposely fired into the stands with malicious intent, I can not imagine there would be cause for action,” said Eagles.