August 4, 2002
Oilers plan safety nets in Skyreach by exhibition games
By JOANNE IRELAND
The Edmonton Journal
The first step was concluding that safety measures had to be taken.
Now the testing being conducted by the NHL is all but wrapped up
which means changes will soon begin in the 30 rinks.
To protect game-goers from flying pucks, safety nets will be
installed in the ends.
Then, in an attempt to prevent players from crashing into inflexible
side glass sheets, some arenas, including Skyreach, will have to
change out the panels.
The decision to install netting comes after the death of Brittanie
Cecil, the 13-year-old Ohio girl who was hit by a ricocheting puck at
a Columbus Blue Jackets game last March. She died two days later.
The NHL had announced at the June entry draft that its member clubs
would put up nets as soon as practical then hired an engineer to test
a number of different products for stopability. That testing was to
be completed by Friday. A list of suppliers will be made available to
the 30 teams.
In a move to curtail the number of concussions and shoulder injuries
incurred by the players, tempered glass side and end panels are also
being tested and new standards will be established. All rinks will
have until Dec. 31 to comply. "What it comes down to is that criteria
we use on tempered glass meets the same movability, flexibility
parameters as arcylic panels," said Dan Craig, the NHL's building
"But we've been doing more testing during the summer and it looks
like there's a system available to us and that some buildings will
not have to change. We should know within two weeks."
Craig, the former ice man at Skyreach, was in Edmonton recently and
met up with Craig Tkachuk, the team's facilities manager, and team
president Patrick LaForge.
He filled the two in on a few details, like how the netting is to be
anchored, how it is tightened at the top, how much to order.
The netting, available in shades that range from clear to black, is
the same product as the one manufactured for the fishing industry.
If all goes according to plan the Oilers will have the netting up for
the exhibition games.
"We've seen it on video, we've seen it on display and I found it very
easy to look through," said LaForge.
"There's definitely huge differences between the clear netting and
the black netting -- the black preferred by a long shot. It
doesn't reflect the light. As a matter of fact, at times, you just
can't tell it's there. I'm pretty happy about that.
"There are fans around the lower bowl of course who will say, great,
I can eat my french fries in peace."
A budget of $50,000 Cdn has been set aside to pay for the net, the
cables to hang it, and the motors to retract it -- an expense that
will be added to budgets across North America.
The ECHL has announced its teams too will install safety netting.
Before that, AHL president Dave Andrews said all his clubs would
follow the NHL's lead.
All city-owned rinks in Edmonton will have it up by the end of 2004.
"We'll have questions," LaForge continued, "but eventually everyone
who goes to a hockey game, whether it's in Saskatoon or Fort
McMurray, is going to be sitting in a netted arena."
A decision on what kind of side panels will be in place before the
New Year, meanwhile, hinges on the league's criteria.
Currently, there are acrylic panels in the ends at Skyreach and
tempered glass panels on the sides.
Changing it all to acrylic would require new posts and changes to the
boards and could cost upwards of $500,000.
Replacing a few panels with more flexible glass panels would cost
"The netting does tie on to the glass so now we have to decide do we
change the whole system now or later," said Bill Cromwell, the senior
operations manager at Northlands. "We're all on a wait-and-see
program right now."
One other stipulation from the NHL is that the side panels are at
least five-feet tall (1.52 metres). That's not an issue in Edmonton
but some rinks will have to change -- another move to protect patrons.
What impact it will have in the courts has yet to be determined.
Following the death of Cecil, Elizabeth Hahn, who was hit by a puck
at a Chicago Blackhawks game in January, filed a lawsuit against the
team, the league, and the United Center.
Hahn, hit while she was bent over to pick up a napkin, underwent
emergency brain surgery to have a blood clot removed. She also
required plastic surgery on her right ear. A section of the lobe was
There is a state law stipulating that hockey rinks are granted
immunity from injury liabilities but Hahn's suit contends the
defendants knew spectators were at risk.
It cites a study by two emergency room doctors who established that
during 127 games at Washington's MCI Center, 122 fans suffered
injuries from pucks.
The study was forwarded to the NHL two years ago.
Bill Daly, the NHL's chief legal counsel, said recently that he
didn't think that by installing netting, the league was admitting
"It shouldn't have any effect on our current lawsuits," he said.