It’s known to be an exceptionally physical sport, but the news of how Adam Johnson died sent shockwaves through the hockey community because while injuries are common on the rink, deaths certainly aren’t.
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Johnson was born in Grand Rapids, Minnesota in 1994, and grew up in Hibbing, where he led his high school team to the prestigious state tournament in 2011. He was a Mr. Hockey finalist in 2012-13 and later starred for two seasons at the University of Minnesota-Duluth, where in 2017 he scored the winning goal in overtime to lead the Bulldogs to the Frozen Four.
Johnson attended the Pittsburgh Penguins prospect development camp before opting to conclude his collegiate career early, agreeing to a two-year, entry-level contract with the Penguins on July 6, 2017, he’d go on to become the second-leading scorer for the American Hockey League affiliate Wilkes-Barre/Scranton Penguins in the 2017–18 season and made his National Hockey League debut with the Pittsburgh Penguins on March 21, 2019.
He’d jump around from team to team for a few years; from the Swedish Hockey League’s Malmö Redhawks back to North America with the Ontario Reign of the AHL, then back to Europe with the Ausburger Panther of the Deutsch Eishockey Liga, then finally to the Nottingham Panthers in of the Elite Ice Hockey League for the 2023/24 season in August 2023. However, his life would be tragically cut short in a “freak accident” on October 28, 2023, in a game against the Sheffield Steelers. Here’s what we know about how Adam Johnson died.
How did Adam Johnson die?
Adam Johnson died when his neck was cut by the skate of Steelers player Matt Petgrave during an on-ice collision. According to reports, Johnson attempted to skate to the team bench before collapsing on the ice; players on both sides locked arms around him while medics attended to him before screens were put up and the stadium was evacuated. Johnson was transferred by ambulance to Sheffield’s Northern General Hospital where he was declared dead and a police investigation was launched.
“We were called at 8.25pm on Saturday 28 October to reports that a player had been seriously injured during a Sheffield Steelers versus Nottingham Panthers game at the Utilita Arena in Sheffield. Officers attended the scene alongside other emergency services and one man, aged in his 20s, was taken to hospital with serious injuries. Sadly, he was later pronounced deceased at hospital,” the Sheffield police said in a statement.
“Our officers remain at the scene carrying out enquiries and our investigation into the circumstances surrounding the incident remain ongoing. We would encourage the public to avoid speculation regarding the incident while we continue our enquiries.”
17 days later, Yorkshire Police confirmed someone in connection to Johnson’s death was arrested on suspicion of manslaughter, though they fell short of naming the suspect. “Our investigation launched immediately following this tragedy and we have been carrying out extensive enquiries ever since to piece together the events which led to the loss of Adam in these unprecedented circumstances,” SYP detective chief superintendent Becs Horsfall said of the arrest in a statement. “We have been speaking to highly specialised experts in their field to assist in our enquiries and continue to work closely with the health and safety department at Sheffield City Council, which is supporting our ongoing investigation.”
The Elite Ice Hockey League confirmed Johnson’s death in a press release. “The Elite Ice Hockey League is heartbroken to confirm that Nottingham Panthers forward Adam Johnson sadly passed away following a freak accident in Saturday’s game between Sheffield Steelers and Nottingham Panthers. In light of this deeply upsetting news, the Elite League has postponed all games scheduled to take place on Sunday 29 October 2023,” the statement read from the Elite Ice Hockey League.
“The thoughts of everyone connected with the EIHL are with Adam’s family, friends and team mates at this incredibly sad and difficult time. We would also ask everyone to respect the privacy of Adam’s family at this time. Many of us will have found Saturday’s events very distressing. Please take care of yourselves, and each other. Further help and advice is available at NHS and NHS Inform. A useful resource for helping children is also available here.”
According to a source quoted by the Daily Mail, Petgrave was “absolutely distraught” by the events that unfolded, and supporters rallied around him after he received “vile messages online” from “heartless trolls”. Tina Taylor, a Panthers supporter, told the publication: “It was a one-in-a-million chance occurrence and will probably never happen again. It was a complete freak accident.” She continued: “He was absolutely distraught by the death of an opponent but it was a tragic accident and he was not to blame. The awful trolling must stop.”
Johnson’s final team, the Nottingham Panthers, issued an official statement following Johnson’s death. “The Nottingham Panthers are truly devastated to announce that Adam Johnson has tragically passed away following a freak accident at the game in Sheffield last night,” the team said Sunday. “The Panthers would like to send our thoughts and condolences to Adam’s family, his partner and all his friends at this extremely difficult time. Everyone at the club including players, staff, management and ownership are heartbroken at the news of Adam’s passing.”
“Our thoughts are also with the fans and staff of both clubs, especially those who attended or were following the game, who will be devastated following today’s news,” the team added.
“The Panthers would like to thank everyone who rushed to support Adam last night in the most testing of circumstances. Adam, our number 47, was not only an outstanding ice hockey player, but also a great teammate and an incredible person with his whole life ahead of him. The club will dearly miss him and will never ever forget him.”
His former team the Pittsburgh Penguins also honored Johnson in their official statement. “The Pittsburgh Penguins join the entire hockey world in mourning the life of Adam Johnson, whose life tragically ended far too soon,” the Penguins said. “We offer our deepest condolences to Adam’s family and friends, as well as all of Adam’s past and present teammates and coaches. Adam will always be part of the Penguins family.”
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