The hockey world is mourning a devastating loss that occurred on Saturday, Oct. 28.
Adam Johnson, a 29-year-old forward who played for the Nottingham Panthers of the English Elite Ice Hockey League (EIHL) in their weekend matchup against the Sheffield Steelers, was struck in the neck by Steelers player Matt Petgrave’s skate blade.
Johnson skated into the offensive zone before being checked by Petgrave. As Petgrave was executing the check, he lost control of his footing and his skate blade struck Johnson’s neck. Johnson then attempted to skate off the ice before collapsing, which gained the immediate attention of the medical staff. He was consequently rushed to a nearby hospital and was pronounced dead once he arrived on the scene.
It was a devastating blow, especially since Johnson was not only halfway through his career but also hadn’t even reached the age of 30. He had a lot of passion for the game of hockey and was loved by his teammates at each and every stop of his journey. Some of those who were touched by Johnson included some teammates on one of his former teams, the National Hockey League’s Pittsburgh Penguins, as well as their head coach, Mike Sullivan.
“To see him score in his home state was pretty cool,” team captain Sidney Crosby said. “And just the way he skated. There’s some guys that, when you get out there with them, they can just flat out fly. He was one of them.”
“I think just the way he carried himself, just a happy person in general—we’re sure going to miss him,” defenseman Pierre Oliver-Joseph said.
“It was a privilege to be his coach … I remember his first game and his first goal in Minnesota. He was a great kid, a great player. And boy, he could really skate,” Penguins coach Mike Sullivan said.
Furthermore, the EIHL and the NHL released statements mourning the loss of Johnson.
“The thoughts and condolences of everyone connected with the EIHL are with Adam’s family, friends and teammates at this incredibly sad and difficult time,” the league said in a statement. “We would also ask everyone to respect the privacy of Adam’s family at this time.”
As a result of this tragedy, the EIHL postponed all games that were scheduled for Sunday, Oct. 29 and the governing body of ice hockey in England announced sweeping changes in response. They are now mandating all players to wear neck guards at all times moving forward, starting at the beginning of 2024.
“Undoubtedly, this moment in time casts a somber shadow upon our global sporting community, serving as a stark reminder of our collective responsibilities as custodians of the sport,” the EIHA said in a statement. “As in all sports, the safety of our players must take precedence above all else. We are firmly committed to our obligation to exhaust every possible means to ensure that a tragic incident of this nature never befalls our sport again.”
This mandate is a three-step initiative that the EIHL is implementing. Step one is a short-term recommendation until Dec. 31, 2023, in which it recommends all players at every level of English Ice Hockey leagues to wear neck guards and protectors when they are on the ice. The second step is a medium-term recommendation to be made within the next year, “in consultation with relevant stakeholders,” to conduct a review to consider all aspects of player equipment, including the use of helmets, mouthguards, and facial protection.
“It is unacceptable for any player to lose their life while playing sport,” the EIHA said. “Our responsibility is not only to avert the recurrence of such a heart-breaking accident, but also to pre-emptively address other foreseeable incidents in the future. We bear both a legal and a moral obligation to respond in a measured and pragmatic way.
They continued, “There is a distinct likelihood that comprehensive evaluations will transpire at the international level, and the EIHA is committed to taking an active and constructive role in this comprehensive process.”
Finally, the third step places a focus on league members providing its “clear guidance” on the continual discussion of player safety and their duties within that area. This includes the requirement for all clubs to demonstrate that they are proactively emphasizing player safety as their number one priority.