A former NHL player died after his throat was slashed by a skate. Will his death change NHL safety measures?
Adam Johnson died after his throat was slashed while playing for the Nottingham Panthers Saturday. How has the hockey world responded?
Former NHL player Adam Johnson died on Saturday after his throat was slashed while playing in a game for the Nottingham Panthers of England’s Elite Ice Hockey League.
Johnson collided with Matt Petgrave and was then cut by Petgrave’s skate. The 29-year-old American was able to get up despite heavy bleeding but then collapsed.
He received CPR and immediate medical attention but later died at the hospital, The Athletic reported.
How has the NHL responded?
Johnson played 13 games for the Pittsburgh Penguins before he started playing in England. The Penguins wore helmet decals with his initials and number for their game Monday.
Before the game, the team played a video tribute featuring moments from Johnson’s time with the team and asked fans to give Johnson a final cheer instead of a moment of silence, according to ESPN.
The Penguins released a statement on behalf of coach Mike Sullivan, who coached Johnson during his time with the team.
“It’s an incredible tragedy. He was a great kid. 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,” he said.
How has the Elite Ice Hockey League responded?
The Elite Ice Hockey League is now strongly recommending its players wear neck guards, and the league will make the equipment mandatory at the conclusion of the year, according to a league update.
“The EIHA sends its heartfelt condolences to Adam’s family and friends as well as the Nottingham Panthers community and those involved in the accident at this sad and difficult time,” the league said in a statement.
The Panthers and the Sheffield Steelers, the opposing team during the incident, suspended their games for the week, CNN reported.
Will Matt Petgrave be arrested?
Some have called for Petgrave to be brought to justice for his role in the fatal accident, including former players.
Former Philadelphia Flyers player Chris Therien posted on X that the act was intentional and said the league should shut down for an investigation.
After seeing the incident involving Adam Johnson, 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— Chris Therien (@ctherien6) October 30, 2023
In a post on X, Westin Michaud, one of Johnson’s Panthers teammates, denounced the hate directed at Petgrave and “from his view on the bench closest to the accident,” the clip looked accidental.
“I need to address something about the accident. We wholeheartedly stand with Matt Petgrave. The hate that Matt is receiving is terrible and completely uncalled for,” he wrote. “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 our support.”
Former NHL player Marc Methot also came to Petgrave’s defense on X but called Petgrave’s actions “reckless.”
“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,” he wrote.
Police are investigating the incident, but Dev Kumar Parmar, an international sports lawyer, told The Athletic that Petgrave’s possible arrest and conviction is unlikely because authorities “would need to prove this was more than a freak accident,” which is what the Panthers are calling it.
Will the NHL mandate neck guards?
Sullivan told reporters Tuesday that the Penguins’ American League and East Coast League teams have mandated players wear neck and wrist guards, but the team “can’t do that at the NHL level, but we can certainly strongly encourage” players to wear the additional cut-resistant protection.
Equipment mandates at the NHL-level can’t be made without the NHLPA’s agreement, NHL commissioner Gary Bettman said during a press conference Wednesday, according to ESPN.
Players have started having discussions about neck guards, and the heads of player safety initiatives for the NHLPA and NHL will discuss what’s next for the league and neck guards at February’s All-Star Game, ESPN reported.
A neck guard mandate could take years for players to get on board with if the rollout of other safety rules are any indication.
Helmets were first mandated in 1979 — but only for rookies — and Craig Mactavish was the last player to go helmetless until he retired in 1997, according to Bleacher Report.
Have hockey players died during a game before?
Former BYU hockey player Jaxon Logan died in 2005 after a puck hit him in the chest. His teammate ended up scoring on the play, according to the Daily Universe. Logan’s heart stopped but he was able to skate over to the bench before being rushed to the hospital, where he later died.
Three hockey players have died previously after suffering a cut to the neck during a game: Bengt Akerblom in 1995, Timur Faizutdinov in 2021 and Teddy Balkind in 2022, The Athletic reported.