Police are investigating the “freak accident” which killed ice hockey player Adam Johnson.
Johnson, 29, was playing for the Nottingham Panthers in a Challenge Cup match at the Sheffield Steelers when he reportedly suffered a slashed neck following a collision.
The crowd of 8,000 spectators watched in horror as desperate attempts were made to save the American’s life.
The Nottingham Panthers described the incident as a “freak accident” when the club confirmed his death on Sunday.
A South Yorkshire Police spokesperson said: “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.
“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 inquiries and our investigation into the circumstances surrounding the incident remain ongoing.
“We would encourage the public to avoid speculation regarding the incident while we continue our inquiries.”
Sheffield City Council’s health and safety team was assisting the police.
Meanwhile, the player’s fiancee Ryan Wolfe paid tribute on Instagram, saying: “My sweet angel, I’ll miss you forever and love you always.”
The Nottingham Panthers are truly devastated to announce that Adam Johnson has tragically passed away following a freak accident at the game in Sheffield last night. pic.twitter.com/lhSOkDu03Q
— The Nottingham Panthers (@PanthersIHC) October 29, 2023
The English Ice Hockey Association says it will be mandatory to wear a neck guard during “all on-ice activities” from the start of 2024.
“The EIHA makes a ‘strong recommendation’ that all players at all levels across English ice hockey use an approved ice hockey neck guard/protector whilst participating in all on ice activities,” read a statement from the governing body of the sport in England and Wales.
“This ‘strong recommendation’ is in place until 31 December 2023, after which it will become a mandatory requirement.
“It is not mandatory with immediate effect due to anticipated supply issues. This will be under constant review between now and mandatory implementation.
“All protective equipment must be worn without alterations and as directed by the manufacturers’ specification.”
EIHA update: Player safety.
— English Ice Hockey Association (@EIHA_Official) October 30, 2023
The EIHA says it will also conduct a thorough review of safety equipment in the next 12 months including, but not limited to, the use of helmets, mouthguards/gumshields and facial protection, and the application of IIHF (International Ice Hockey Federation) rules.
The Elite League are yet to comment on whether or not they will make neck guards mandatory.
NIHL team Oxford City Stars, who have former Chelsea goalkeeper Petr Cech on their roster, have announced their players must wear neck guards at all times on the ice.
Shane Moore, director of hockey operations, said safety must be a priority, adding: “A life has tragically been taken too soon in a freak accident, and if wearing neck guards can prevent another devastating loss, then we want to ensure we have done everything within our power to protect our players.”
Fans gathered at Nottingham’s Motorpoint Arena to pay tribute with flowers and cards.
Steelers fan Gary Hibbert was at the game and said: “I have come to pay my respects. It is heart-breaking.
“My kids absolutely love ice hockey and they have both been absolutely heart-broken after Saturday’s game, as we all are.”
Speaking of the incident in which Minnesota-born former NHL player Johnson was injured, he said: “My initial thought was he had a stick to the face, as it happens.
“Within two, three, four seconds we have seen the pool of blood.”
Mr Hibbert said Johnson had skated off for a moment after the collision before he collapsed and said he then shielded his son as best he could from the tragedy unfolding on the ice.
More tributes were left at Sheffield’s area, with one card saying: “To a young man who came to Sheffield on a Saturday night to do his job and play for his team, left the arena fighting for his life, and didn’t return home with his team mates RIP Adam Johnson #47.”
Ontario Reign paid tribute to their former player before the club’s American Hockey League game against the Abbotsford Canucks on Sunday.
Johnson’s name was announced to the crowd as his number 49 jersey was placed on a chair in the middle of the ice by former Nottingham player Jacob Doty.
Every Ontario player touched the jersey in a moving gesture.