The coach of an Edmonton minor hockey player who died Sunday after he was hit in the throat by a puck says the boy often "put his body on the line for his team" by blocking shots.
Nathan Papirny says that just proves that the fatal accident was a "once in a 10 million" event that would never happen again.
Kyle Fundytus, 16, died after blocking a shot during a midget double-A game Saturday afternoon at the Clareview arena in Edmonton.
Papirny was on the bench when he saw Fundytus struck by the puck, and was the first to get to the teen as he lay on the ice, he told CBC News.
"As soon as I got to him, I gave the signal to call an ambulance," Papirny said. Fundytus was unconscious. Paramedics started CPR on the ice and then rushed him to hospital, where he died the next day.
Papirny said Fundytus was a great kid who often blocked shots.
"It's something that Kyle did many, many, many times for us — not like this was his first time. And it just hit him in a spot where there was a little bit of exposure."
Death called an anomaly
Observers are characterizing the accident as an anomaly. Fatalities in the minor leagues are rare on the whole, with more concern centred on injuries and the long-term effects of concussions.
Other hockey fatalities
1937 — Canadiens forward Howie Morenz, 34, died weeks after a severe leg injury that broke his bone in four places.
1968 — Bill Masterson, 29, hit his head on the ice after being hit by two opponents. He was not wearing a helmet, and died two days after the fall.
1997 — Saskatchewan junior player Graham Christie died after being struck in the chest by a puck during a game.
2002 — Hockey fan Brittanie Cecil, 13, died three days after being struck in the head by a puck during a game between the Columbus Blue Jackets and Calgary Flames.
2008 — New York Rangers draft pick Alexei Cherepanov, 19, died after collapsing on the bench during a Continental Hockey League game in Russia.
2009 — Don Sanderson, 21, a defenceman for the Whitby Dunlops, was struck on the head during a fight and died three weeks later.
2009 — Jessica Pickard, 15, of Holmesville, N.B., collapsed and died after her competitive midget C team played an exhibition game.
New rules around intentional and accidental hits to the head were introduced this year to keep players safer and perhaps encourage more hesitant parents to register their kids.
Support for mandatory neck guards at all levels of play shot up after Richard Zednik of the Florida Panthers nearly had his carotid artery severed by a teammate's skate blade in 2008 — but the neck guard was not designed to prevent what happened to Fundytus.
Hockey Canada states that the intent of the neck guard is to protect against skate blades, but not impact from sticks or fast-moving pucks. Neck guards are mandatory in all minor and female hockey, and Fundytus was wearing one.
Although it may be cold comfort to a community in mourning, it seems that little could have been done to prevent the tragedy.
"It’s a one off," said Emile Therien, former president of the Canada Safety Council. "It’s a very, very fast game played by kids who are big and strong."
He described the incident as "an unfortunate tragedy," adding that, even though every part of the body is protected, such accidents can still happen.
Betty Schmilar, president of Hockey Edmonton, the league's governing body, told CBC News it was a "freak accident."
She said the player was wearing proper equipment. "He just took a puck in the neck the wrong way."
'Going to take a while'
Students at an Edmonton high school were grieving Fundytus's loss on Monday.
"He was just a great friend to everyone," said Greer Clooney, outside Holy Trinity Catholic High School on Monday.
"It's difficult 'cause he's not going to be here ... Just living for him, remembering him, instead of being so sad all the time. It's going to take a while."
"He was a really nice guy and he did everything for his girlfriend," said Taylor Clark.
"He was just the sweetest guy I knew and he's in all my classes, so today is going to be really sad."
A couple of memory walls set up at the school in honour of Fundytus were covered by messages from students.
"RIP Kyle. Life cut way too short," one note said. "You'll always be looking down."
"I'm crying bro. I want you back here," another note said. "I can't even think about my bro not being here."
"We look to our collective faith to find understanding and strength as we mourn the loss of Kyle," Holy Trinity principal Catherine Nissen said in a prepared statement.
"The unexpected and tragic circumstances of his death have us all remembering how precious life is."
Nissen remembered Fundytus as someone who loved hockey as well as the people in his life.
"He loved life with his parents and his sister and his friends, who were so important to him," she said.
"Kyle's smile and sense of humour will be forever remembered in the halls at Holy Trinity."
Nissen said grief counsellors were at the school to help students and staff.