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Police investigating death of US ice hockey player Adam Johnson who died in ‘freak accident’

<i>Gene J. Puskar/AP</i><br/>The Pittsburgh Penguins and Anaheim Ducks gather at center ice
Gene J. Puskar/AP
The Pittsburgh Penguins and Anaheim Ducks gather at center ice

By Sam Joseph, CNN

(CNN) — Police are investigating the death of American ice hockey player Adam Johnson who died on Saturday after a “freak accident” while playing for the Nottingham Panthers in England.

During the second period of the Panthers’ game against the Sheffield Steelers, Johnson appeared to suffer a serious injury after a collision with a Steelers player.

Spectators were asked to leave the Utilita Arena in Sheffield and the match was immediately suspended, with the Panthers confirming on Sunday that Johnson had died “following a freak accident at the game.” He was 29.

South Yorkshire Police (SYP) said on Monday that they are investigating the matter.

“We were called at 8.25pm on Saturday 28 October to reports that a player had been seriously injured during a Sheffield Steelers versus Nottingham Panthers game at the Utilita Arena in Sheffield,” a statement read.

“Officers attended the scene alongside other emergency services and one man, aged in his 20s, was taken to hospital with serious injuries. Sadly, he was later pronounced deceased at hospital.

“Our officers remain at the scene carrying out enquiries and our investigation into the circumstances surrounding the incident remain ongoing.”

SYP released a new statement on Tuesday announcing that though its officers have now left the scene, the wider investigation remains ongoing and will take some time “due to the complex nature of this tragic and unprecedented incident.”

“As with all unexpected and sudden deaths, it is standard practice for police to investigate the circumstances fully and feedback our findings to HM Coroner,” added the SYP statement, referring to the specialist judges who investigate deaths which are seen to be unnatural, violent, or where the cause isn’t known.

Sheffield City Council told CNN that they will assist the investigation.

“Firstly, our thoughts are with Adam’s family, friends and teammates at this very sad and difficult time,” said councilor Joe Otten, Chair of the Sheffield Council Waste and Street Scene Policy Committee.

“Our Health and Safety team is helping South Yorkshire Police with their investigation and will assist wherever necessary.”

Fans have been leaving flowers outside the Motorpoint Arena in Nottingham, where the Panthers play, while tributes have been paid around the world.

Johnson’s fiancée, Ryan Wolfe, posted on her Instagram story: “My sweet sweet angel. I’ll miss you forever and love you always.”

His former team, the Pittsburgh Penguins of the National Hockey League (NHL), also paid tribute to him before and during their game on Monday against the Anaheim Ducks.

Fans at the PPG Paints Arena were invited to stand and cheer while players from both teams gathered at the center ice circle before the game in memory of Johnson.

All players also honored Johnson by sporting special ‘AJ 47’ decals on their helmets.

“He was a great kid, he was a good player,” head coach Mike Sullivan said. “Boy, he could really skate. It was a privilege to be his coach. There are no words I have to explain how I feel about the whole circumstance. It’s just an incredible tragedy.”

The English Ice Hockey Association (EIHA), the governing body of ice hockey in England and Wales, released a statement on Monday detailing its commitment to improving player safety in the aftermath of Johnson’s death.

In the short term, the EIHA said it strongly recommended that players at all levels in English Ice Hockey use a neck guard/protector during all on-ice activities. After December 31, the statement said, neck guards would become mandatory. “It is not mandatory with immediate effect due to anticipated supply issues,” the EIHA said.

“It is unacceptable for any player to lose their life while playing sport,” the EIHA added. “Our responsibility is not only to avert the recurrence of such a heart-breaking accident, but also to pre-emptively address other foreseeable incidents in the future.”

The EIHA also confirmed that it would launch a “thorough review” of all aspects of player safety equipment (such as helmets, mouthguards, gumshields and facial protection) and would “provide its membership with clear guidance on the ongoing and continuous improvement of Player Safety and their duties within this area.”

The Panthers confirmed on Monday that their Elite Ice Hockey League fixtures scheduled to take place this week had been suspended, as did the Steelers.

Johnson was born in Hibbing, Minnesota and started out his professional career in the American Hockey League. He progressed to the NHL with the Penguins, appearing in 13 games across two seasons with the side, scoring four points.

Johnson also played in Sweden and Germany before joining the Panthers for the 2023-24 season.

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