Adam Johnson's aunt pays tribute to ice hockey star who died

Adam Johnson’s father was watching his son’s ice hockey game on livestream from Minnesota when horror unfolded – as his grieving aunt says ‘nobody should have to live through what we saw’

  • Nottingham Panthers star Adam Johnson died in a freak accident on Saturday
  • His throat was cut by Sheffield Steelers opponent Matt Petgrave’s skate blade

The father of the US ice hockey player who died from a freak accident in Britain was watching the match online 4,000 miles away in Minnesota, his aunt revealed today.

Nottingham Panthers star Adam Johnson died when his throat was accidentally cut by Sheffield Steelers opponent Matt Petgrave’s skate blade as they collided.

The 29-year-old briefly stood up, bleeding profusely on to the ice, before collapsing again during the game in Sheffield. He received immediate medical attention, with CPR performed on the ice, and was taken to hospital but could not be saved.

Today, his aunt Kari Johnson said she and Johnson’s father Davey Johnson, who is her brother, were both watching online as tragedy unfolded at the Utilita Arena.

Meanwhile, as fans left flowers and tributes to Johnson in Nottingham today:

  • Adam Johnson’s girlfriend paid tribute to her ‘sweet, sweet angel’ today;
  • The player who accidentally slashed Johnson’s throat was trolled online;
  • A GoFundMe campaign has raised more than £12,000 for Johnson’s family;
  • A team based in Oxford have made neck guards mandatory for all players;
  • South Yorkshire Police detectives continue to investigate the tragic incident.

Ms Johnson told ABC’s KSTP-TV: ‘We saw it happen. It was horrific. It was, it was. I cannot even describe it because nobody should have to live through what we saw.

Nottingham Panthers ice hockey player Adam Johnson pictured with his aunt Kari Johnson

Adam Johnson (left) with his aunt Kari Johnson (centre) and his girlfriend Ryan Woolfe (right) 

Johnson’s aunt Kari Johnson has revealed how she and Johnson’s father were watching online

Adam Johnson and Ryan Wolfe, pictured in July 2022, had become engaged over the summer

‘The skate cut right through Adam’s windpipe, and it cut his carotid artery. And, at one point, they had lost him in the ambulance and they brought him back. And, um, he didn’t make it through surgery once they got him to the hospital.

READ MORE ‘I’ll miss you forever and love you always’: Adam Johnson’s girlfriend’s heartbreaking tribute to ice hockey star who died in ‘freak accident’ after proposing in the summer – as fans rally around ‘absolutely distraught’ player who killed him with boot blade

‘They just couldn’t get the bleeding to stop. He lost way too much blood. It was tough to see and it was tough knowing it was your boy and you know it’s bad. You know, my nephew, not my son, but my boy. He’s my boy. Just seeing it was traumatic.’

She added that Johnson had bought an engagement ring to propose to his girlfriend Ryan Woolfe, who had only just moved over to England from the US to join him.

Ms Johnson said: ‘We were all really excited because we were really looking forward to their future. And he didn’t get a chance to ask her and then this happened.’

She also spoke to the Star Tribune newspaper, saying the family back home in Minnesota was devastated at Johnson’s death and described him as a generous and humble man.

Ms Johnson said that while growing up Johnson would try to master a skill such as playing guitar or tennis before moving onto something else.

She said he ‘wanted to be the best at whatever it was he was doing’ and would compete with his older brother Ryan. Ms Johnson added that the siblings were like her own sons, adding: ‘They were my boys and each one of them had a piece of my heart.’

She also told how he ‘just wanted to be good but he didn’t want all the fanfare that goes with it’ and said he would be generous to friends even early on in his career when he was not earning big wages.

Ms Johnson said: ‘He wanted to treat his friends all the time. If one of them didn’t have a job or something, Adam would buy steaks for everybody so they could grill them.’

Ryan Wolfe and Nottingham Panthers player Adam Johnson, at a family wedding in June 2022

The tribute posted by Ryan Wolfe, girlfriend of Nottingham Panthers star Adam Johnson

She added that before he moved to England, he was late visiting his grandmother Marilyn because he was buying an engagement ring for his girlfriend Ryan Wolfe.

Adam Johnson: From Frozen Four and the NHL to Nottingham

By Max Carter Keall

Adam Johnson, 29, was an American professional ice hockey player who was playing in England with the Nottingham Panthers this year.

Johnson was born on June 22, 1994 in Hibbing, Minnesota, a mining city in the north of the US.

He played ice hockey after high school, representing the Indiana Ice and Sioux City Musketeers at junior level, before heading to college to play with the University of Minnesota-Duluth Bullldogs in the National Collegiate Hockey League.

Johnson impressed at the Bulldogs, grabbing an impressive 18 goals and tallying 37 points in 42 games to finish second in the club in both goals and points.

His brilliant overtime, power-play goal to defeat Boston University ensured the Bulldogs made it to the Frozen Four, the highest level of men’s collegiate hockey.

His success earned him a place at the prospect development camp of the NHL side the Pittsburgh Penguins, performing well enough to agree a two-year, entry-level contract in 2017.

In 2020 Johnson decided to move abroad, playing for Swedish side Malmo Redhawks, before returning to North America to ply his trade for Canadian side Ontario Reign.

However the forward’s time was not done in Europe, moving again to represent German DHL side Augsburger Panther in 2022 and then finally signing for Nottingham Panthers for the 2023-24 season.

‘He hadn’t [proposed] yet because he wanted to do something big and special,’ she said.

It follows claims from Johnson’s former college teammate Riley Tufte who told The Athletic that Minnesota-born Johnson and Miss Wolfe had become engaged over the summer and lived together in England.

However, Ms Johnson confirmed that they were not yet engaged. 

Johnson is survived by his father Davey, mother Sue and older brother Ryan. A family friend told The Athletic that his grandmother Marilyn was ‘his biggest fan’.

Reports in the US also revealed that Johnson played for the University of Minnesota Duluth side in his youth, where his father Davey also played for four years and was a team captain in 1980-81. His uncle, Gary DeGrio, also played there four years.

Mark DeCenzo, Johnson’s high school coach at Hibbing-Chisholm, told Fox News: ‘He was dynamic, had some great skills, and made it to a high level but the part that’s most important to me is the person he was. He a was a joy to coach, a great teammate, and just a good person.’

Also today, his girlfriend Miss Wolfe paid tribute on Instagram, posting a picture of him and saying: ‘My sweet, sweet angel. I’ll miss you forever and love you always.’

Meanwhile supporters have rallied around ‘distraught’ Petgrave who accidentally killed Johnson with his boot blade in front of 8,000 horrified spectators. 

After the incident, players formed a shield to hide what was happening from public view. 

A GoFundMe campaign has raised more than £12,000 to raise funds for Johnson’s bereaved family, and it has received more than 700 donations so far.

The tragedy has now prompted calls for professional players to wear neck guards – which is mandatory only for players aged under 20 in this country.

There have been two previous neck-slashing incidents in North America’s National Hockey League (NHL) – but in both incidents the players were saved by prompt treatment from medics.

Following the weekend’s incident, NIHL Division 1 South team Oxford City Stars said it would introduce mandatory neck guards for all players, adding that these would be a ‘non-negotiable component’ of attire during all practices and games. 

Earlier in his career Johnson played 13 times for the Pittsburgh Penguins in the NHL before competing in leagues in North America and Europe. He signed for Nottingham Panthers in August. 

Adam Johnson in action for the Pittsburgh Penguins in the NHL in Columbus, Ohio, in 2017 

Matt Petgrave (file image) crashed into one of Johnson’s teammates in a collision which saw him lose balance before his leg lifted up and made contact with Johnson’s neck

Petgrave joined Sheffield Steelers in summer 2022 from Czech side HC Dunamo Pardubice

The incident on Saturday happened in the 35th minute of the Elite Ice Hockey League match in front of 8,000 fans at Sheffield’s Utilita Arena. The game was later abandoned.

Calls for professional ice hockey players to wear neck guards 

The tragedy has prompted calls for professional players to wear neck guards – which is mandatory only for players aged under 20 in this country.

There have been two previous neck-slashing incidents in North America’s National Hockey League (NHL) – but in both incidents the players were saved by prompt treatment from medics.

In February new rules were introduced in England raising the age for mandatory neck guards from under 18 to under 20. But they do not need to be worn by professional adult players, who also use less protective helmets.

In 1989 goalie Clint Malarchuk suffered a similar neck injury during an NHL game in Buffalo, New York. His life was saved by the quick action of a former US Army combat medic who served in Vietnam. He gripped his neck and pinched the severed vein until doctors arrived and kneeled on his collarbone to reduce his breathing rate.

In 2008 Richard Zednik also suffered a neck wound from an opponent’s skate blade. He lost five pints of blood and was saved by quick medical treatment.

Footage showed how Sheffield Steelers player Matt Petgrave crashed into one of Johnson’s teammates on Saturday in a collision which saw him lose balance before his leg lifted up and made contact with Johnson’s neck. 

Video of the incident showed Johnson getting to his feet, with blood pouring on to the ice. He was helped by a referee and a teammate as he headed off the rink, but collapsed on to the ice.

Peter Spencer, the BBC Radio Sheffield ice hockey reporter who was at the game, said the home team’s doctor and the Panthers physio ‘were straight out on the ice to attend to him’.

They were joined by paramedics and two trauma nurses from the crowd. 

After players formed a ring to shield Johnson being given treatment, screens were brought down on the ice but the medical team was seen performing CPR before Johnson was taken to Sheffield’s Northern General Hospital.

Mr Spencer added that hockey was ‘a fast and physical and at times brutal game’ but it was ‘certainly not an incident that I have ever seen the like of and hopefully I will not see the like of again’.

Mr Petgrave was described as ‘absolutely distraught’ following the incident – but has since suffered hateful and abusive messages on social media.

Panthers fan Tina Taylor said it was a ‘one in a million chance occurrence and will probably never happen again’, adding: ‘He was absolutely distraught by the death of an opponent but it was a tragic accident and he was not to blame.’

Julie Whitnum, another Panthers supporter, said the accident was a ‘one off, it was awful’, adding: ‘It was not a deliberate or foul play.’

Panthers fan Hazel Woods, who witnessed the tragedy, said: ‘What happened was horrible and I can’t get the image out of my head. It is like a bad dream I can’t wake up from.’ She added: ‘It was a freak accident, totally tragic, and no one was to blame.’

Adam Johnson, seen seconds before the freak incident at Sheffield’s Utilita Arena on Saturday

People lay flowers and tributes for Johnson outside the Motorpoint Arena in Nottingham today

Lit candles are among the tributes left outside the Motorpoint Arena in Nottingham today

People lay flowers and heartwarming tributes at the Motorpoint Arena in Nottingham today

A message board with a tribute to Johnson outside the Motorpoint Arena in Nottingham today

Caroline Crossland, a spectator at the match, commented on X: ‘Don’t even know how to feel or what to think after the horrific accident we saw tonight.’

READ MORE Adam Johnson: The freak accident which tragically killed the ice hockey star at the age of 29 has only happened TWICE before… and both players were fortunate to survive

In reference to the player whose skate caused the fatal injury, she added: ‘Watching him break with shock and trauma was horrific, I can’t imagine how he feels.’

One parent of a shocked fan said: ‘My 17-year-old has come home in bits, he said he can’t un-see what he’s seen tonight. He’s white as a sheet. My thoughts and prayers are with the teams involved.’

Another fan said on Facebook: ‘Last night, we were in the arena and witnessed the horrific accident on the ice. When we were all finally told to leave, my legs were shaking and about to give. I was hyperventilating – everything was a blur. My thoughts are with Adam Johnson, his family and the Nottingham Panthers.’

Another spectator said: ‘I wouldn’t wish what we witnessed last night, and what Adam Johnson’s family, friends and colleagues must be going through right now, upon my worst enemy.

‘All of the Steelers and Panthers acted so quickly, most of all, our Steelers doctor, who was on that ice within a matter of seconds. It was a tragic accident. Rest in paradise Adam Johnson, number 47.’

A Panthers spokesman said yesterday: ‘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 [Saturday].

‘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.

An ambulance outside Sheffield’s Utilita Arena on Saturday evening after the freak accident

A GoFundMe page was set up over the weekend to raise money for Johnson’s bereaved family

Tributes were left to Adam Johnson at Sheffield’s Utilita Arena yesterday by fans of both teams 

Fans lay flowers outside the Motorpoint Arena in Nottingham yesterday after Johnson’s death

‘Everyone at the club including players, staff, management and ownership are heartbroken at the news of Adam’s passing. 

READ MORE Ice hockey player who accidentally killed opponent Adam Johnson with his boot blade is ‘completely distraught’ and has been receiving ‘vile messages’ from trolls on social media

‘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 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.

‘We ask that the privacy of Adam’s family and friends, and everyone at the club is respected at this difficult time as we all seek to come to terms with our grief.’

Yesterday’s three Elite League games in Belfast, Fife and Guildford were postponed following Johnson’s death, while Nottingham later confirmed via X that tomorrow’s home contest against the Glasgow Clan had also been postponed.

The statement read: ‘The club will provide updates on our website and social media regarding future fixtures and all ticket information for postponed games as soon as it is possible to do so.

‘We ask for everyone’s understanding and patience regarding this news and ask that fans refrain from emailing or contacting the club as our staff come to terms with today’s tragic news.’

Johnson played for Pittsburgh Penguins in the National Hockey League before spending the 2020-21 season in Sweden with the Malmo Redhawks.

Tributes to Adam Johnson have also been left outside the Motorpoint Arena in Nottingham 

Players and staff observe a silence for Adam Johnson at Hillsborough in Sheffield yesterday

A video tribute to Adam Johnson before an Edmonton Oilers match in Alberta yesterday

The Penguins said in a statement: ‘The Pittsburgh Penguins join the entire hockey world in mourning the loss of Adam Johnson, whose life tragically ended far too soon.

READ MORE Who was ice hockey star Adam Johnson and how did the Nottingham Panthers player die?

‘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 honor to watch him fulfill his dream of playing in the National Hockey League.’

The NHL also passed on its condolences. A statement said: ‘The National Hockey League family mourns the passing of former Pittsburgh Penguin Adam Johnson. 

‘Our prayers and deepest condolences go to his family, friends and teammates.’

Johnson went on to play in the American Hockey League for the Ontario Reign and in Germany for the Augsburger Panther before agreeing to join Nottingham for the 2023-24 campaign.

A statement from the Elite Ice Hockey League read: ‘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,’ read a league statement.

‘In light of this deeply upsetting news, the Elite League has postponed all games scheduled to take place on Sunday October 29, 2023.

Ontario Reign players carried out a touching tribute to Adam Johnson on the ice yesterday

‘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.’

READ MORE Adam Johnson: Petr Cech’s Ice hockey team makes neck guards mandatory for all their players after 29-year-old was killed in a freak accident

Sheffield said in their own statement: ‘Everyone at the Steelers send their condolences to Adam Johnson’s partner, family and teammates.’

And Barrie Archer, chair of the English Ice Hockey Association, said: ‘The entire EIHA is heartbroken and deeply saddened by Adam’s passing. 

‘This is a tragic accident and our thoughts and prayers go out to Adam’s family, friends and ice hockey family at this difficult time.’ 

A South Yorkshire Police spokesman said today: ‘We were called at 8.25pm on Saturday, October 28 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.

‘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.’

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