Police in England have taken a man into custody on Tuesday, suspecting him of manslaughter in connection with the tragic death of American ice hockey player Adam Johnson. The 29-year-old Johnson was participating in a game for the Nottingham Panthers against the Sheffield Steelers on October 28 when a horrifying incident occurred. During the Elite Ice Hockey League match at Sheffield’s home arena, Johnson was struck in the neck by an opponent’s skate blade.
The South Yorkshire Police have not disclosed the suspect’s identity or age. He remains in police custody pending further investigation.
The incident involved another player, Matt Petgrave, 31, who plays for the Sheffield team. The incident shocked the entire hockey community and even led to moments of silence in the NHL.
Video footage of the incident shows Johnson skating with the puck towards the Steelers’ net. Petgrave approaches Johnson, colliding with another player from the Panthers. As Petgrave begins to fall, his left skate blade strikes Johnson in the neck. Both players fall to the ice, with Petgrave quickly getting back on his feet. Johnson, on the other hand, rises more slowly, and as he is assisted off the ice, his jersey is visibly soaked in blood. Tragically, Johnson later succumbed to his injuries at a local hospital.
Detective Chief Superintendent Becs Horsfall stated, “Our investigation was initiated immediately following this tragedy, and we have been conducting extensive inquiries ever since to reconstruct the events leading to Adam’s loss in these unprecedented circumstances.”
It is rare but not unprecedented for a hockey player to face criminal charges related to on-ice actions. In Italy, Giacinto “Jim” Boni was charged with culpable homicide after slashing Miran Schrott in the chest during a game on January 14, 1992, resulting in Schrott’s death due to a cardiac event. Boni pleaded guilty to manslaughter.
In recent history, two NHL players in Canada faced criminal charges for on-ice actions: Marty McSorley and Todd Bertuzzi. In 2000, McSorley was found guilty of assault with a deadly weapon for a two-handed slash to the head of Donald Brashear with his stick, resulting in an 18-month probation sentence. In 2004, Bertuzzi pleaded guilty to assault for grabbing Steve Moore from behind and sucker punching him, receiving a plea deal that led to one year of probation and 80 hours of community service.
The Nottingham Panthers expressed their condolences in a social media statement, describing Johnson’s death as a “freak accident.” Johnson, originally from Minnesota, had appeared in a total of 13 NHL games with the Pittsburgh Penguins during the 2018-19 and 2019-20 seasons.
In response to Johnson’s tragic death, the English Ice Hockey Association, which governs the sport below the Elite League, has mandated that all players in England must wear neck guards starting in 2024.
Both the EIHL and the Nottingham Panthers have refrained from commenting on the ongoing police investigation. Messages seeking comment from Johnson’s agent, a family friend, and the Sheffield Steelers have not been immediately returned.
At a recent annual meeting of NHL general managers in Toronto, Rod Pasma, NHL VP of hockey operations, addressed the issue of cut-proof equipment. Pasma noted that players now have a wider range of protective options compared to a decade ago, including choices for wrist, body, and Achilles tendon/foot protection. He also mentioned advancements in neck protection.
The league’s chief medical officer, Dr. Willem Meeuwisse, emphasized that team doctors and trainers have been educated on how to handle major lacerations. Dr. Meeuwisse stated, “We’re constantly reviewing policies, procedures, equipment, and personnel to ensure we’re as prepared as possible to deal with catastrophic injuries. Our goal is to minimize the risk of such tragic outcomes in the future.”