The Oldest College Weekly in America. Founded 1868.

The Colgate Maroon-News

The Oldest College Weekly in America. Founded 1868.

The Colgate Maroon-News

The Oldest College Weekly in America. Founded 1868.

The Colgate Maroon-News

Former NHL Player Adam Johnson Passes After Horrific Injury

AP Photo / Zac Goodwin

Former NHL player Adam Johnson has passed away after being involved in a freak skating accident during a top division English ice hockey game between his Nottingham Panthers and the Sheffield Steelers on Oct. 28. While fighting for the puck in the corner, Johnson’s neck was tragically slashed open during a collision with an opposing player; he was later declared dead at Sheffield’s general hospital at the age of 29. 

Born in Grand Rapids, Minnesota, Johnson showed an affinity for the sport from a young age and made a name for himself while starring as a center for Hibbing High School and later for the University of Minnesota at Duluth. While playing for Duluth in 2015, he scored an overtime goal to beat Boston University and make it to the NCAA’s prestigious Frozen Four. Duluth later fell to the University of Denver in the championship game, but Johnson’s goal will forever be remembered as one of the most triumphant moments in the school’s athletic history. 

After two years at Duluth, Johnson signed with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2017 and spent the next two years mainly playing for their affiliate team in the Scranton area. He was called up to the big leagues for a total of 13 games across two seasons, and managed four points in his limited opportunities. 

At the onset of the pandemic, Johnson looked to continue his hockey career overseas, first playing in Malmo, Sweden, and then in Augsburg, Germany, before being signed by the Nottingham Panthers of the British Elite Ice Hockey League, for whom he made seven appearances before his tragic passing.

His untimely death drew reactions from both sides of the Atlantic — ESPN reported that Johnson’s former Penguins put on a tribute before their game against Anaheim last Monday that drew a standing ovation from the home crowd as players from both sides circled around center ice. Players on both sides wore an ‘AJ 47’ decal on their helmets to pay homage to the man his teammates remembered fondly.

According to CNN, English fans paid tribute by laying flowers outside the Panthers’ home arena and holding two minutes of silence at 8:20 — the time of his collision — the day after his death. The Panthers also set up a charity fundraiser in Johnson’s home town of Hibbing, raising $67,000 dollars for local charities selected by the family of the deceased.

The death has brought about a variety of safety concerns about the sport as this isn’t the first time a hockey player has died from a skate slash to the throat. Per ESPN, the governing body of English Hockey — the English Ice Hockey Association — immediately announced that all players would have to wear neck protection starting in 2024. The Pittsburgh Penguin affiliate teams that Johnson used to play on also announced that players would be wearing neck protection from here on out, as did the Western Hockey League, one of the major junior hockey leagues in Canada. In the wake of the tragedy, the NHL  has strongly recommended that players wear neck protection, although the organization is yet to officially mandate it.

Strong pushes for greater adoption of neck protection are the latest in a series of safety measures taken throughout hockey’s history. In a game known for frequent fights, broken teeth and high-speed collisions on ice, changes and implementations of safety measures can be slow. It took until 1979 for the league to make helmets mandatory — even then, veterans could decide whether or not they wanted to wear one, per Bleacher Report.

On Monday, Nov. 6, Johnson was laid to rest during a private celebration of life in Hibbing. He leaves behind his fiancee, family, friends and many former teammates. The full impact of his untimely death on the sport remains to be seen.

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