Hockey community continues to remember Minnesotan killed by cut from skate blade
A tribute continues Monday afternoon outside Hibbing Memorial Arena for hockey player Adam Johnson, who died over the weekend during a professional game in Europe.
The Nottingham Panthers, who play in England’s Elite Ice Hockey League (EIHL), announced Sunday that Johnson, 29, died after his throat was cut by a skate blade during a collision in Saturday’s game against the Sheffield Steelers.
Police in England on Monday announced they are investigating Johnson’s death, in what his team described as a “freak accident” during the game.
“The memory I’d like to share about him that most people don’t know — what a good kid he was,” said Mark DeCenzo, Johnson’s former high school hockey coach on the Hibbing-Chisholm team. “I can’t say enough good things about him.”
DeCenzo’s favorite on-ice memory was when Johnson scored a natural hat trick for Hibbing-Chisholm against Hermantown during the state hockey tournament back in 2011.
“It’s hard. The whole hockey world has been rocked by this,” former NHL goalie Clint Malarchuk said.
Back in 1989, Buffalo Sabres goaltender Malarchuk was slashed by a skate, severing his carotid artery and cutting his jugular vein during an NHL game.
“I survived … but Adam did not. He didn’t survive. If it takes a death really to get us thinking straight about neck protection, it’s sad to think we think we need that tragedy to move forward with this kind of equipment,” Malarchuk said.
The NHL does not require skaters to wear protective neck gear.
USA Hockey, which governs the amateur and youth play in the country, recommends neck laceration protection, while Hockey Canada requires neck protection for players on the ice.
The English Ice Hockey Association said it will now require players to wear neck guards from the start of 2024 following the death of Johnson.
Brad Hewitt is director of Minnesota Hockey’s District 6, which covers nearly 4,000 skaters in the west metro. He says the district has mandated neck protectors for 22 years.
“You gotta have an approved neck guard. Not just a neck guard, but a neck guard that stays down, in the right area,” Hewitt said. “Why afford one child dying or getting severely injured when it can be stopped?”
Monday morning, the director of the Hibbing-Chisholm Hockey Association, where Johnson played as a kid, confirmed the association is now requiring all of its players to wear neck protection.
Skating for the Hibbing-Chisholm high school team, Johnson was a finalist for 2013’s Mr. Hockey Award given annually to the state’s top player.
After two seasons playing for Sioux City in the USHL junior league, Johnson spent the next two seasons playing college hockey at Minnesota-Duluth.
Johnson scored an overtime game-winner in a regional final against Boston University that sent UMD to the 2017 Frozen Four.
He turned pro in 2017 and appeared in 13 games with the Pittsburgh Penguins.
ABC News contributed to this report.