LONDON (AP) — Police in England arrested a man Tuesday on suspicion of manslaughter in the death of American ice hockey player Adam Johnson, whose neck was severed by a skate during a match.
Johnson, 29, was playing for the Nottingham Panthers against the Sheffield Steelers on October 28 when he was struck by an opponent’s skate blade during the Elite Ice Hockey League match at Sheffield’s Utilita Arena.
South Yorkshire Police have not named the suspect or provided his age. He was in police custody.
Matt Petgrave, 31, who plays for Sheffield, was the other player involved in the horrific incident that reverberated through the hockey community and led to moments of silence across the NHL.
Video of the incident shows Johnson skating toward the Steelers net with the puck. Petgrave skates toward Johnson and collides with another Panthers player. Petgrave’s left skate shoots up as he starts to fall and the blade hits Johnson in the neck.
Both players land on the ice. Petgrave rose immediately. Johnson stood up 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 began immediately after this tragedy and since then we have carried out extensive investigations to piece together the events that led to the loss of Adam in these unprecedented circumstances,” said Chief Inspector Becs Horsfall.
It would be rare, but not unprecedented, for a hockey player to be charged.
Giacinto “Jim” Boni was charged with manslaughter in Italy after slashing Miran Schrott in the chest during a match on January 14, 1992, and Schrott died due to heart disease. 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, McSorley was found guilty of assault with a deadly weapon for striking Donald Brashear’s head with his two-handed baton. He was sentenced to 18 months probation.
In 2004, Bertuzzi pleaded guilty to assault for grabbing Steve Moore from behind and punching him. Bertuzzi agreed to a plea deal and was sentenced to one year of probation and 80 hours of community service.
The Panthers said on X, formerly known as Twitter, that Johnson tragically died after 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 holding him up.
“The hate Matt is receiving is terrible and completely inappropriate,” Michaud said. “It is clear to me that his actions were unintentional and anyone who suggests otherwise is mistaken. Let us come together and not spread baseless hatred against anyone who needs our support.”
A moment of silence was held for him on Sunday at the Steelers’ first home game since Johnson’s death. Petgrave did not play in the match, but fans gave him a standing ovation when his team photo appeared on the scoreboard.
A native of Minnesota, Johnson played a total of 13 NHL games with the Pittsburgh Penguins in the 2018-19 and 2019-20 seasons.
The English Ice Hockey Association, which governs the sport under the Elite League, responded to Johnson’s death by requiring all players in England to wear neck protectors from early 2024.
An EIHL spokesperson said the league cannot comment on an ongoing police investigation. A spokesperson for Nottingham Panthers said the organization had no comment. Messages seeking comment sent to Johnson’s agent, a family friend, and Petgrave’s team were not immediately returned.
AP Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno in Washington contributed.
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