On October 28, 2020, tragedy struck during an Elite Ice Hockey League game between England’s Nottingham Panthers and Sheffield Steelers.
In front of 8,000 spectators, a collision caused Toronto-born Matt Petgrave, an enforcer who leads the EIHL in penalty minutes, to go airborne and his skate blade to cut open the throat of 29-year-old Minnesota native Adam Johnson. Johnson attempted to skate back to the bench while clutching his neck before paramedics rushed him to Sheffield’s Northern General Hospital where he ultimately succumbed to his wound.
The Panthers expressed their devastation at what they described as a “freak accident” and Johnson’s death was reported by BBC.
Despite this tragic incident, Petgrave received a standing ovation during Sunday’s home game for his English team. On Tuesday he appeared in court on the charge of manslaughter.
“Adam, our number 47, was not only an outstanding ice hockey player, but also a great team-mate and an incredible person with his whole life ahead of him,” said the team. “Everyone at the club including players, staff, management and ownership are heartbroken at the news of Adam’s passing.”
Johnson’s fiancée, Ryan Wolfe,
said he had “the best sense of humor, the biggest heart, the quickest wit, and the kindest soul.
The footage of the incident spread rapidly online, leading some hockey players to question whether the deadly contact may have been deliberate.
Former NHL enforcer Sean Avery
told Fox News host Jesse Watters that Petgrave hadn’t got up in the morning with the intention of “murdering someone today” but indicated the move was not altogether innocent.
“I’ve watched it, it’s terrible, it’s tough to watch,” said Avery. “Did this kid make a move that was very unorthodox? Do I think he was trying to make contact of some sort? Absolutely.”
Chris Therien, former Philadelphia Flyers and Dallas Stars defenseman,
wrote on X, “That Bush league needs to shut down for investigation immediately. I was literally appalled and sickened by what I saw. It looked intentional. It was a Kung fu kick. My eyes are not lying tell me I’m wrong.”
Marc Methot, another former NHL player-turned-sports analyst, responded, “I refuse to believe the defender targeted that area on purpose, but I do think it was an incredibly reckless attempt at disrupting Johnson’s path into the middle ice.”
Westin Michaud, one of Johnson’s teammates,
suggested online, “The unintentional clip of the Panther player’s leg by the Sheffield player caused the somersault. It’s clear to me his actions were unintentional and anyone suggesting otherwise is mistaken. Let’s come together and not spread unwarranted hate to someone who needs are [sic] support.”
The Sheffield Steelers paid tribute to Johnson at their home Utilita Arena Sheffield on Sunday. Royal Air Force representatives set a wreath at center ice, while Steelers head coach Aaron Fox and Coventry Blaze coach Danny Stewart laid a wreath in the fallen player’s memory.
After two minutes of silence, an image of Petgrave was displayed on the jumbotron, prompting fans to stand up and cheer for the 31-year-old.
South Yorkshire Police has announced that one arrest has been made in connection with Adam Johnson’s death.
While no names have been released yet, it is known that an individual is being held on suspicion of manslaughter.
At this time, they remain in police custody.
Detective Chief Superintendent Becs Horsfall
said in a statement, “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.”
“We have been speaking to highly specialised experts in their field to assist on our enquiries and continue to work closely with the health and safety department at Sheffield City Council, which is supporting our ongoing investigation.”
Horsfall added, “Adam’s death has sent shockwaves through many communities, from our local residents here in Sheffield to ice hockey fans across the world. We know these communities will expect us to handle this investigation with the same professionalism, fairness and sensitivity as any other and request that members of the public refrain from comment and speculation which could hinder this process.”