Saturday

Espen Knutsen

He should have been remembered as a neatly named, hockey pioneer from an unusual hockey land.

Instead he is forever - and unfairly - linked to one of the greatest tragedies in NHL history.

Espen Knutsen, ESPN's favorite hockey player, was a rare hockey player from Norway to make it to the National Hockey League. Though Norway is one of the world's greatest winter sports nations, hockey is not high on the interest list.

Yet somehow the diminutive Norseman nicknamed Shampoo who grew up wearing hand-me-down clothing from his sisters made it to the top of the hockey world, even though he never really dreamed about it.

Espen grew up starring in soccer and hockey. Around the age of 15 he had to choose one or the other, and he chose hockey 'because it was more fun." His ultimate goal - to play professionally in  Sweden or Finland. The NHL was so far away from Norway he never really let it enter his thought process.

Starring in Sweden with Djurgarden, as well as a strong 1994 Olympics held 110 miles north of his hometown, he caught the eyes of the NHL. The Mighty Ducks of Anaheim brought him over, making him just the third Norwegian born player in NHL history.

He would return to Sweden soon thereafter, but he gave the NHL another shot in 2000, signing with the Columbus Blue Jackets. He proved to be a strong offensive player on a weak expansion team.

Knutsen was doing nicely but his career spun into mediocrity as he was devastated by a tragedy in Columbus. Espen's slap shot was deflected into the stands, striking 13 year old Brittanie Cecil, who was attending her first hockey game. She died two days later.

The death led to the NHL's decision to erect safety netting at all its arenas.

The accident was just that - an accident, and a freak one at that. But Knutsen took the death hard, and, thanks largely to injuries, Knutsen soon disappeared from the top level of hockey.

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