Adam Johnson’s UK squad returns to the ice for a memorial game
Updated: 5:10 p.m
Adam Johnson’s England hockey team retired its No. 47 jersey on Saturday as part of a memorial game to honor the American who died after an opposing player’s skate snapped his neck during a game.
Nottingham Panthers players appeared to be wearing neck protectors as well, although the team has not confirmed this.
The Panthers announced the jersey 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 be our No. 47 forever,” announcer Steve Litchfield said. “Not only was he an outstanding hockey player, he was also a great teammate. He was a great person and had his whole life ahead of him. We will miss him greatly.”
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The Panthers have not played since their match on October 28 last month in Sheffield.
The death of the 29-year-old former Pittsburgh Penguins player not only forced the sport to reconsider safety regulations, but also sparked a local criminal investigation that led to the arrest of a man on suspicion of manslaughter.
The game, which was streamed for free on YouTube, does not count toward the Elite Ice Hockey League standings. Instead, it was intended to bring players and fans together as they tried to move forward.
“We’re not just hockey fans, we’re a hockey family,” Panthers fan Margaret Cartwright said before the game as she visited a makeshift shrine where fans left flowers, wreaths, T-shirts, team scarves and handwritten notes to honor Johnson.
The match, which was low-intensity and unmarked, ended in a 4-4 draw, but the home fans were able to celebrate four times with the goal song “Chelsea Dagger”.
The Panthers players received a standing ovation when they came out to warm up and some of them waved and chatted with fans between takes.
Nottingham’s coaching staff stood shoulder to shoulder on the bench as players and fans looked 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 half, play stopped in the 47th minute for a minute of applause from 10,000 fans in the stadium, which was completely filled. Coaches, players and officials also applauded.
A post-mortem examination confirmed that Johnson died as a result of a neck injury. South Yorkshire Police did not identify the suspect or provide his age. He was arrested on Tuesday and released on bail the next day.
Matt Pittgrave, a Sheffield Steelers defenseman, was the other player involved in the incident. Johnson had skated the puck across the blue line — inside Sheffield’s defensive zone — when Pitgrave collided with another Panthers player nearby. Pitgrave’s left skate started to fall and the blade hit Johnson in the neck.
Neither the Steelers nor the league provided an update on Petgrave’s roster status. His agent declined to comment when contacted by The Associated Press earlier this week.
“Everyone is dealing with it in their own way, and some are being negative. The majority of us are trying to be positive,” Cartwright said. “It was just a really unfortunate incident. The poor guy who caused this has to live with that for the rest of his life. I think that should be punishment enough. No one would do that on purpose – no one. That’s how it happened, in a split second something went wrong and unfortunately, we lost poor Adam.
The Minnesota native was in his first season in Nottingham — a central England city known as the home of Robin Hood — after stints in Germany and a handful of games with 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 under the Elite League, reacted to Johnson’s death by requiring all players in England to wear neck protectors from the start of 2024.
The match in Sheffield was part of the league’s Challenge Cup – like the FA Cup in Britain – but the Panthers have since withdrawn from that competition. They will resume their season against Belfast Giants on November 26.