Tue. Jul 23rd, 2024

An 11-year-old boy has died days after being hit by a puck in the neck during a minor hockey league practice on Tuesday in Saint-Eustache, northwest of Montreal.

Saint-Eustache police (SPVSE) confirmed the news of the boy’s death on Friday.

“This morning, we were saddened to learn of the child’s death. We offer our deepest condolences to the family, friends and loved ones,” a press release from the force reads.

Following the incident at the Walter-Buswell complex, the child was rushed to a Montreal hospital to be treated for his injuries.

The SPVSE confirmed to CTV News on Friday that the boy’s neck had been struck, but have yet to clarify when exactly he died. 

The child was wearing the required protective equipment at the time of the incident, the city said in a post on its website, and Hockey Quebec confirmed that neck guards are part of a player’s regular protective gear.

People outside the arena on Friday told reporters the incident had left other young players shaken, adding that it was very difficult news to hear. Fellow parents offered their sympathies to the family.

“I used to play hockey when I was young. I can’t believe it happened to a kid so young. He had all his life in front of him. My sympathies to the family. It will be a tough thing to go through. I wish them the best of luck,” said one parent outside the sports complex.

The case is under investigation, but police say there is no reason to believe that foul play was involved.

“The police service has notified the Coroner’s Office and will assist with the investigation, which is still underway. The purpose of the investigation is to shed light on the causes and circumstances of the death,” the SPVSE news release continued.

The Walter-Buswell complex in Saint-Eustache. (Credit: Noovo Info)

A ‘VERY RARE’ ACCIDENT 

Luc De Garie is a sports medicine doctor with the Institut national du sport du Québec (Quebec sports institute). He said that while these kinds of hockey incidents are uncommon — especially as protective gear improves — they can still happen.

“The kids play in a restricted area where there’s some flying objects going around. So, unfortunately, accidents can happen. Fatal accidents are very rare,” he told CTV News in an interview Friday.

“There are dangers associated to it, and being protected the best you can will decrease the chances of unfortunate injuries,” he added.

It’s unclear which part of the boy’s neck was injured, but De Garie stressed that it’s a vulnerable area in general. In extreme cases, even with adequate protection, the speed of the puck can cause significant damage.

“Even if it bumps in a little bit in, you know, the bad place at the bad moment, it could be fatal in terms of the injury. But it’s very rare,” De Garie explained.

According to Trent McCleary, a former Montreal Canadiens player who in 2000 suffered a career-ending puck strike to the throat during an NHL game, said the equipment doesn’t offer substantial protection against direct, hard impact. 

The hit fractured his larynx and endangered his life, he said in a phone interview Friday with The Canadian Press. He wasn’t wearing a neck guard at the time of the injury, but said it likely “wouldn’t have mattered” because a neck guard wouldn’t have protected him from such a high-velocity slam.

“I don’t believe that there’s any neck protection that can protect from the impact,” he said.

Enrico Ciccone, former NHL player and member of Quebec’s national assembly, agreed that these types of incidents are highly uncommon, calling it a “freak accident.”

“It’s the highest technology what the kids are wearing today, you know, and there’s a law that you have to wear some neck guards and protection face masks on the ice, it’s a law here in Quebec,” he told CTV News.

Under Quebec’s Act Respecting Safety in Sports, hockey players are required to wear a safety helmet, full face protector and a neck protector, with some exceptions.

“I don’t know where further we can go before waiting for some professional recommendation,” Ciccone added.

“Of course, we have to get the material in the market to make sure there’s always space for improvement, that’s for sure. But, of course, we’ll have to wait for those specialists’ recommendations about that.”  

‘SADNESS WITHOUT WORDS’

Political leaders and hockey associations expressed their shock at the tragic incident on Friday. 

In a press release, the Saint-Eustache Minor Hockey Association said its members are all “deeply saddened by this tragedy.”

“I salute the solidarity shown by many over the past few days, which have been extremely emotional. Finally, above all, I offer the family and their loved ones my most sincere sympathies,” said Jean-Philippe Labrèche, president of the association.

Hockey Quebec also offered its support to the young player’s family.

“We share the immense sadness of all those affected by this terrible tragedy and send them all our thoughts and support,” reads a Friday statement signed by Jocelyn Thibault, general director of Hockey Quebec, and Claude Fortin, president of the administrative council.

Quebec’s Minister for Sport Isabelle Charest called it a “sadness without words,” writing in a post on social media that she is “devastated” to learn of the boy’s death.

“My condolences and thoughts go out to his family, friends and teammates,” she wrote.

D’une tristesse sans mots. Je suis dévastée d’apprendre le décès du jeune hockeyeur. J’offre toutes mes condoléances et mes pensées à la famille, aux amis ainsi qu’aux coéquipiers.https://t.co/XZBqjzW7FP

— Isabelle Charest (@IsabelleCharest) December 15, 2023

Canada’s minister of sport, Carla Qualtrough, also offered her condolences to the boy’s family on Friday.

“As the parents of an 11-year-old, Eron and I cannot imagine the immense sadness and grief being experienced by this family, this team, and all of Saint-Eustache. We offer our heartfelt and sincere condolences,” she wrote in a post on X.

The City of Saint-Eustache confirmed that psychosocial support was made available to the player’s teammates and loved ones.

“We have all been affected by this news. All our energy is currently focused on supporting the community and the loved ones of the families most directly affected by this situation. On behalf of myself and the City Council, I send my best wishes to this young sportsman and his family,” reads a statement from Mayor Pierre Charron issued Thursday, before the boy’s death was confirmed.

The Montreal Canadiens issued a statement Friday on social media, saying the organization was saddened to learn of the boy’s death. “Our thoughts and condolences go out to his family and friends during this incredibly difficult time,” the post read. 

The Saint-Eustache Minor Hockey Association says those in need of support can call the 811 line or Sport’Aide at 1-833-211-2433.

With files from Noovo Info and The Canadian Press

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