NOTTINGHAM, England — A makeshift shrine for Adam Johnson keeps growing outside the arena where the Nottingham Panthers play hockey.
Fans have left flowers, wreaths, jerseys, team scarves and handwritten notes to honor the 29-year-old American who died after an opposing player’s skate cut his neck during a game last month in Sheffield.
“We’re not just hockey fans — we’re a hockey family,” Panthers fan Margaret Cartwright said Saturday. The death of the 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 Panthers haven't played since that Oct. 28 game and will take the ice on Saturday at Motorpoint Arena against the Manchester Storm in a memorial game “to celebrate the life of Adam and the remarkable person he was,” the team said.
The Nottingham Panthers retired Johnson's No. 47 jersey ahead of the game. “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 game, which will be broadcast free on YouTube, does not count in the Elite Ice Hockey League standings. Instead, it's meant to bring players and fans together as they try to move forward.
A postmortem examination confirmed Johnson, who was 29, 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 — into Sheffield's defensive zone — 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.
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 — 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 — a central England city known as home to Robin Hood — 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 — like soccer's FA Cup tournament in Britain — 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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