Sharp skate blades and exposed or thinly padded skin have long been a risk in heavy contact hockey.
On Saturday during a game in Britain’s Elite Ice Hockey League, there were fatal consequences for American forward Adam Johnson, a former NHLer with the Pittsburgh Penguins.
In what officials at the game called a “freak accident,” the 29-year-old with the Nottingham Panthers died as the result of a skate blade slicing his neck.
During the Challenge Cup road game against the Sheffield Steelers, Johnson was in a second period collision and the blade accidentally came up. He received emergency treatment on the ice with images from the scene showing a heavy loss of blood. A video of the mishap was briefly online, but taken down.
Players on both teams went to their respective dressing rooms, while Johnson was taken to Sheffield’s Northern General Hospital. Nearly 8,000 fans at Utilita Arena were asked to leave the building due to a “major medical emergency.”
His death was confirmed in a post by the Panthers on Sunday morning. In a report by the hockey website Daily Faceoff, BBC on-scene reporter Peter Spencer was quoted via social media: “Nottingham player badly hurt after a collision in mid-ice. Paramedics are now on the ice, players are forming a ring around him and now screens are up around him. Awful scenes here at Sheffield Arena.”
On Sunday, many Nottingham players and fans came to its home rink, Motorpoint Arena, to lay flowers and mourn.
Signed by the Penguins after two years playing at the University of Minnesota-Duluth, the native of Grand Rapids, Minn., played 13 NHL games from 2018 to 2020 between farm assignments. After spending the last few years in the American Hockey League as well as stops in Sweden and Germany, the centre was in his first EIHL season with seven points in seven games.
“Everyone at the club, including players, staff, management and ownership, are heartbroken at the news of Adam’s passing,” a Nottingham team statement said. “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.
“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 Panthers would like to thank everyone who rushed to support Adam last night in the most testing of circumstances.
“Adam, our No. 47, was not only an outstanding 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.”
The EIHL postponed all three of Sunday’s games in Belfast, Northern Ireland, Fife, Scotland, and Guildford, England. Nottingham’s next game, which was set for Tuesday, will also be re-scheduled.
The Penguins and the NHL added their own tributes on Sunday with his former club saying they “join the entire hockey world in mourning the loss of Adam, whose life tragically ended far too soon. 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 a part of the Penguins family. It was our honour to watch him fulfil his dream of playing in the NHL.”
Minnesota Wild general manager Bill Guerin, who was GM of Wilkes-Barre when Johnson was in Pittsburgh’s system, recalled to The Athletic “a beautiful skater” in remembering Johnson.
“Just a good, nice kid. Like, so nice. He wasn’t the most talkative kid, but you knew he loved the sport. His teammates all loved him and we wanted guys like Adam in our system.”