November 17, 2010
At National Hockey League arenas, there is protective netting that hangs above the boards at each end of the rink. It prevents pucks from rocketing off a player's stick into the audience and causing injuries; it also serves as a de facto memorial for a 13-year-old girl whose tragic death in 2002 made installation of the netting a necessity.
Like the puck that struck Cecil, the puck that hit 7-year-old Isabella Kowalski in the head on Monday night in Philadelphia entered the stands after a deflection on the ice. The Philadelphia Flyers' home game against the visiting Ottawa Senators was her first NHL game. The Warrington, Pa., resident only saw a portion of the first period before a puck struck her above the left eye, and she was rushed to the hospital.
"It hit my head and then the cotton candy got in my hands," Isabella simply said.
Her father described the traumatic incident in a bit more detail.
"It was just a freak play," Todd said. "A player went to pass the puck... and it deflected off a stick, off the glass and it came flying into the crowd.
"Everything happened so quick -- there's no reaction time -- you couldn't see it. Just hear the worst sound of your life. The tone of her voice when she called, 'Poppy.' And I looked over and saw the hole on her head."
Many hockey fans who heard about the incident that night wished her well as they thought back to the Brittanie Cecil tragedy eight years ago. Thankfully, Isabella Kowalski only needed a few stitches. Inspirationally, she's reached out to the player that deflected the puck and vows to keep going to watch the hometown Flyers.
NBC 10 in Philadelphia interviewed her and her father about the incident, and found a burgeoning hockey fan whose harrowing first night at the rink hasn't turned her off to the game.
If you're a hockey fan or a parent, you might get a little emotional watching this:
As was mentioned, the deflected puck came off the stick of Ottawa winger Ryan Shannon(notes). Espen Knutsen, the player whose deflected shot struck and caused the death of Brittanie Cecil, was never the same after that tragedy. Within that context, this letter from Isabella Kowalski is quite moving:
As Isabella said to NBC: "I like hockey and I want to get to another game -- but sit a little bit farther."