Police in England arrested a man Tuesday on suspicion of manslaughter in the death of American ice hockey player Adam Johnson, whose neck was cut by a skate during a game.
Johnson, 29, was playing for the Nottingham Panthers against the Sheffield Steelers in an Elite Ice Hockey League game Oct. 28 when the blade cut his neck.
South Yorkshire Police did not name the suspect or provide his age. He was in police custody.
The player who cut Johnson’s neck was Matt Petgrave, 31, a Toronto native who plays for Sheffield.
Video of the incident shows Johnson skating with the puck toward the Steelers net. Petgrave skates toward Johnson and collides with another Panthers player. Petgrave’s left skate kicks up as he begins to fall and the blade hits Johnson in the neck.
Both players land on the ice. Petgrave immediately got to his feet. Johnson rose more slowly and as he is helped off the ice, his jersey is covered in blood. He later died at a local hospital.
“Our investigation launched immediately following this tragedy and we have been carrying out extensive inquiries ever since to piece together the events which led to the loss of Adam in these unprecedented circumstances,” Detective Chief Superintendent Becs Horsfall said.
Fans had a moment of silence for Johnson at the Steelers next game and gave Petgrave a standing ovation.
Johnson was a Minnesota native who appeared in a total of 13 NHL games with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2019 and 2020.
Petgrave played junior hockey with the Ontario Hockey League’s Oshawa Generals, Owen Sound Attack and Niagara Ice Dogs.
He later spent four years at the University of New Brunswick before turning professional in 2016. He bounced between the ECHL and American Hockey League before heading to Europe in 2021 to play in Slovakia.
He joined the Steelers last season.
It would be rare, but not unprecedented, for a hockey player to be charged.
Giacinto “Jim” Boni was charged in Italy with culpable homicide after he slashed Miran Schrott in the chest during a game on Jan. 14, 1992, and Schrott died as a result of a cardiac event. Boni pleaded guilty to manslaughter.
Two NHL players in recent history have been charged with a crime in Canada for an on-ice action: Marty McSorley and Todd Bertuzzi.
In 2000, Vancouver prosecutors charged Bruins defenceman McSorley with assault with a weapon for slashing Vancouver Canucks forward Brashear on the head during a game the previous month. McSorley was later convicted and received a conditional discharge.
In 2004, Bertuzzi, a Canucks forward, pleaded guilty to assault for grabbing Colorado’s Steve Moore from behind and sucker punching him. Bertuzzi agreed to a plea deal and was sentenced to one year probation and 80 hours of community service.
The Panthers said on X, formerly known as Twitter, that Johnson died tragically following a “freak accident.”
Nottingham teammate Westin Michaud, who posted tributes to Johnson, also defended Petgrave for what he said was an “unintentional clip” with the other player that uprighted him.
“The hate that Matt is receiving is terrible and completely uncalled for,” Michaud posted. “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.”
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.
A spokesman for the EIHL said the league cannot comment on an ongoing police investigation. A Nottingham Panthers spokesman said the organization had no comment. Messages seeking comment sent to Johnson’s agent, a friend of the family, and Petgrave’s team were not immediately returned.
This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 14.,. 2023.
With files from The Associated Press