Hockey

English hockey team remembers former teammate Adam Johnson with jersey retirement

The Nottingham Panthers raised Johnson's former jersey number to the rafters before a 4-4 draw with the Manchester Storm.

American Adam Johnson, 29, suffered slashed neck during Challenge Cup game

Male ice hockey players stand around the centre ice faceoff circle with an Adam Johnson graphic on the scoreboard.
Players and officials observe 47 seconds of silence in remembrance of the late Adam Johnson prior to the Adam Johnson Memorial Game between Nottingham Panthers and Manchester Storm. (Jan Kruger/Getty Images)

The English hockey team that Adam Johnson played for retired his No. 47 jersey on Saturday as part of a memorial game honoring the American who died after an opposing player's skate cut his neck during a game.

Nottingham Panthers players appeared to be wearing neck guards, too, though the team would not confirm that.

The Panthers made the jersey announcement moments before the start of their game against the Manchester Storm as players from both teams stood in a circle at center ice at Motorpoint Arena.

"He will forever be our No. 47," announcer Stef Litchfield said. "He was not only an outstanding hockey player but also a great teammate. He was an incredible person with his whole life ahead of him. We will miss him dearly."

The Panthers hadn't played since their Oct. 28 game last month in Sheffield.

The death of the 29-year-old former Pittsburgh Penguins player has not only forced the sport to reexamine safety regulations but also sparked a criminal investigation locally that led to an arrest of a man on suspicion of manslaughter.

The game, which was broadcast free on YouTube, does not count in the Elite Ice Hockey League standings. Instead, it was meant to bring players and fans together as they try to move forward.

"We're not just hockey fans β€” we're a hockey family," Panthers fan Margaret Cartwright said before the game while she visited a makeshift shrine where fans have left flowers, wreaths, jerseys, team scarves and handwritten notes to honor Johnson.

The game β€” a low-intensity affair with no checking β€” ended in a 4-4 tie, but the home fans were able to celebrate four times with the goal song "Chelsea Dagger."

Panthers players received a standing ovation when they came out for warmups and some waved and chatted with fans between shots.

Nottingham's coaching staff stood arm-in-arm on the bench as players and fans looked up to the scoreboard to watch highlights of Johnson's career. Storm players wore specially designed white jerseys with the number 47 in a circle on the front.

In the third period, play stopped in the 47th minute for a minute of applause by the 10,000 fans at the sold-out venue. Coaches, players and the officials also clapped.

A postmortem examination confirmed Johnson died as a result of a neck injury. South Yorkshire Police did not identify the suspect or provide his age. He was arrested Tuesday and released on bail a day later.

Matt Petgrave, a defenseman for the Sheffield Steelers, was the other player involved in the incident. Johnson had skated with the puck across the blue line β€” into Sheffield's defensive zone β€” when Petgrave collided with another Panthers player nearby. Petgrave's left skate kicked up as he began to fall and the blade hit Johnson in the neck.

A hockey player wearing a yellow, white, and black jersey is shown during a game.
Adam Johnson is shown in this March 2019 file photo while playing for the Pittsburgh Penguins at Madison Square Garden in New York City. Johnson died after a 'freak accident' during a game in England on Saturday. (Bruce Bennett/Getty Images)

Neither the Steelers nor the league has provided an update on Petgrave's roster status. His agent declined to comment when reached by The Associated Press earlier this week.

"Everybody's dealing with it in their own way, some are being negative. The majority of us are trying to be positive," Cartwright said. "It was just a really, really unfortunate accident. The poor guy that caused it has got to live with that for the rest of life. I think that should be punishment enough. Nobody would do that deliberately β€” nobody. It's just how it happened, in a split second something went wrong and unfortunately, we lost poor Adam."

The Minnesota native was in his first season at Nottingham β€” a central England city known as home to Robin Hood β€” after stints in Germany and a handful of games for the Penguins in the 2018-19 and 2019-20 seasons. He was living in Nottingham with his American girlfriend.

The English Ice Hockey Association, which governs the sport below the Elite League, reacted to Johnson's death by requiring all players in England to wear neck guards from the start of 2024.

The game in Sheffield was part of the league's Challenge Cup β€” like soccer's FA Cup tournament in Britain β€” but the Panthers have since withdrawn from that competition. They will resume their season against the Belfast Giants on Nov. 26.

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