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Ice hockey player who accidentally killed opponent Adam Johnson with his boot blade is ‘absolutely distraught’ and has been receiving ‘vile messages’ from trolls on social media


The ice hockey player who accidentally slashed the throat of Adam Johnson is said to be ‘absolutely distraught’ following the Nottingham Panthers star’s death.

Sheffield Steelers player Matt Petgrave, 31, fatally cut his opponent’s throat in a freak accident when they collided during a match in front of 8,000 horrified fans.

Petgrave crashed into one of Johnson’s teammates on Saturday, knocking him off balance and causing his leg to lift up and make contact with Johnson’s neck.

Supporters have been rallying around Canadian defender Petgrave after he received ‘vile messages online’ from ‘heartless trolls’ following the shocking incident.

Panthers fans said ‘no one was to blame’ for the ‘horrific accident’, and described watching Petgrave ‘break with shock and trauma’ after seeing what had happened.

The English Ice Hockey Association declined to tell MailOnline today whether it was providing support to Petgrave and/or calling for an investigation, but said that the ‘hockey community is mourning the loss of a much-loved player’. 

South Yorkshire Police said ‘our investigation into the circumstances surrounding the incident remain ongoing’, and MailOnline has contacted the force for an update. 

Sheffield Steelers defender Matt Petgrave, who joined the club in summer last year

Sheffield Steelers defender Matt Petgrave, who joined the club in summer last year

Matt Petgrave previously played for the Utica Comets, pictured on the ice in March 2019

Matt Petgrave previously played for the Utica Comets, pictured on the ice in March 2019 

Matt Petgrave also played for the Laval Rocket team, where he is pictured in February 2018

Matt Petgrave also played for the Laval Rocket team, where he is pictured in February 2018

Adam Johnson, seen seconds before the freak incident at Sheffield's Utilita Arena on Saturday

Adam Johnson, seen seconds before the freak incident at Sheffield’s Utilita Arena on Saturday

Adam Johnson in action for the Pittsburgh Penguins in the NHL in Columbus, Ohio, in 2017

Adam Johnson in action for the Pittsburgh Penguins in the NHL in Columbus, Ohio, in 2017 

Tina Taylor, a Panthers supporter, said: ‘It was a one in a million chance occurrence and will probably never happen again. It was a complete freak accident.’

She told how Petgrave had been ‘receiving vile messages online’ from ‘heartless trolls’, adding: ‘He was absolutely distraught by the death of an opponent but it was a tragic accident and he was not to blame. The awful trolling must stop.’

Julie Whitnum, another Panthers fan, said the accident was a ‘one off, it was awful’, adding: ‘It was not a deliberate or foul play.’

Panthers supporter Hazel Woods, who witnessed the tragedy, said: ‘What happened was horrible and I can’t get the image out of my head. It is like a bad dream I can’t wake up from.’

She added: ‘It was a freak accident, totally tragic, and no one was to blame.’

And Caroline Crossland, a spectator at the match, commented on X: ‘Don’t even know how to feel or what to think after the horrific accident we saw tonight.’

In reference to Petgrave, she added: ‘Watching him break with shock and trauma was horrific, I can’t imagine how he feels.’

One parent of a shocked fan said: ‘My 17-year-old has come home in bits, he said he can’t un-see what he’s seen tonight. He’s white as a sheet. My thoughts and prayers are with the teams involved.’

Toronto-born Petgrave joined the Steelers in summer last year from Czech Republic side HC Dunamo Pardubice, and had also recently played for Slovakian team HIK Spisska Nova Ves.

The 6ft 1in player studied at the University of New Brunswick where he spent four seasons playing ice hockey, before turning professional in 2017.

He joined East Coast Hockey League side Brampton Beast, based in Ontario, that year and also had spells with Syracuse Crunch, Laval Rocket, Utica Comets, Florida Everblades and Kansas City Mavericks.

Steelers head coach Aaron Fox previously described Petgrave as an ‘impact player’ who can be a ‘game changer’ and play in ‘all positions’.

Last season he was voted onto the Elite Ice Hockey League’s all-star team.

Johnson’s throat was cut by Petgrave’s skate blade when they collided during the match.

The 29-year-old briefly stood up, bleeding profusely on to the ice, before collapsing again. 

He received immediate medical attention, with CPR performed on the ice, and was taken to hospital but could not be saved.

Today, Johnson’s fiancée Ryan Wolfe paid tribute to him on Instagram, posting a picture of him and saying: ‘My sweet, sweet angel. I’ll miss you forever and love you always.’

Ryan Wolfe and Nottingham Panthers player Adam Johnson, at a family wedding in June 2022

Ryan Wolfe and Nottingham Panthers player Adam Johnson, at a family wedding in June 2022

Adam Johnson and Ryan Wolfe, pictured in July 2022, had become engaged over the summer

Adam Johnson and Ryan Wolfe, pictured in July 2022, had become engaged over the summer

The tribute posted by his Ryan Wolfe, fiancée of Nottingham Panthers star Adam Johnson

The tribute posted by his Ryan Wolfe, fiancée of Nottingham Panthers star Adam Johnson

Minnesota-born Johnson and Miss Wolfe had become engaged over the summer and lived together in England, his former college teammate Riley Tufte told The Athletic.

Adam Johnson: From Frozen Four and the NHL to Nottingham

By Max Carter Keall

Adam Johnson, 29, was an American professional ice hockey player who was playing in England with the Nottingham Panthers this year.

Johnson was born on June 22, 1994 in Hibbing, Minnesota, a mining city in the north of the US.

He played ice hockey after high school, representing the Indiana Ice and Sioux City Musketeers at junior level, before heading to college to play with the University of Minnesota-Duluth Bullldogs in the National Collegiate Hockey League.

Johnson impressed at the Bulldogs, grabbing an impressive 18 goals and tallying 37 points in 42 games to finish second in the club in both goals and points.

His brilliant overtime, power-play goal to defeat Boston University ensured the Bulldogs made it to the Frozen Four, the highest level of men’s collegiate hockey.

His success earned him a place at the prospect development camp of the NHL side the Pittsburgh Penguins, performing well enough to agree a two-year, entry-level contract in 2017.

In 2020 Johnson decided to move abroad, playing for Swedish side Malmo Redhawks, before returning to North America to ply his trade for Canadian side Ontario Reign.

However the forward’s time was not done in Europe, moving again to represent German DHL side Augsburger Panther in 2022 and then finally signing for Nottingham Panthers for the 2023-24 season.

Miss Wolfe, who is originally from Oak Grove in Minnesota, was in the crowd and ran onto the ice following the incident before praying for Johnson, it was claimed in The Sun

Johnson is survived by his father Davey, mother Sue and an older brother, also called Ryan. A family friend told The Athletic that his grandmother Marilyn was ‘his biggest fan’.

A GoFundMe campaign has raised more than £12,000 to raise funds for Johnson’s bereaved family, and it has received more than 700 donations so far.

The tragedy has now prompted calls for professional players to wear neck guards – which is mandatory only for players aged under 20 in this country.

There have been two previous neck-slashing incidents in North America’s National Hockey League (NHL) – but in both incidents the players were saved by prompt treatment from medics.

Following the weekend’s incident, NIHL Division 1 South team Oxford City Stars said it would introduce mandatory neck guards for all players, adding that these would be a ‘non-negotiable component’ of attire during all practices and games. 

Earlier in his career Johnson played 13 times for the Pittsburgh Penguins in the NHL before competing in leagues in North America and Europe. He signed for Nottingham Panthers in August. 

Footage showed Petgrave colliding with one of Johnson’s teammates, knocking him off balance and causing his leg to lift up and make contact with Johnson’s neck.

Video of the incident showed Johnson getting to his feet, with blood pouring on to the ice. 

He was helped by a referee and a teammate as he headed off the rink, but collapsed on to the ice.

Peter Spencer, the BBC Radio Sheffield ice hockey reporter who was at the game, said the home team’s doctor and the Panthers physio ‘were straight out on the ice to attend to him’.

They were joined by paramedics and two trauma nurses from the crowd. 

After players formed a ring to shield Johnson being given treatment, screens were brought down on the ice but the medical team was seen performing CPR before Johnson was taken to Sheffield’s Northern General Hospital.

Mr Spencer added that hockey was ‘a fast and physical and at times brutal game’ but it was ‘certainly not an incident that I have ever seen the like of and hopefully I will not see the like of again’.

People lay flowers and tributes for Johnson outside the Motorpoint Arena in Nottingham today

People lay flowers and tributes for Johnson outside the Motorpoint Arena in Nottingham today

Lit candles are among the tributes left outside the Motorpoint Arena in Nottingham today

Lit candles are among the tributes left outside the Motorpoint Arena in Nottingham today

People lay flowers and tributes for Johnson outside the Motorpoint Arena in Nottingham today

People lay flowers and tributes for Johnson outside the Motorpoint Arena in Nottingham today

A message board with a tribute to Johnson outside the Motorpoint Arena in Nottingham today

A message board with a tribute to Johnson outside the Motorpoint Arena in Nottingham today

An ambulance outside Sheffield's Utilita Arena on Saturday evening after the freak accident

An ambulance outside Sheffield’s Utilita Arena on Saturday evening after the freak accident

A GoFundMe page was set up over the weekend to raise money for Johnson's bereaved family

A GoFundMe page was set up over the weekend to raise money for Johnson’s bereaved family

A Panthers spokesperson said yesterday: ‘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 [Saturday].

Calls for professional ice hockey players to wear neck guards 

The tragedy has prompted calls for professional players to wear neck guards – which is mandatory only for players aged under 20 in this country.

There have been two previous neck-slashing incidents in North America’s National Hockey League (NHL) – but in both incidents the players were saved by prompt treatment from medics.

In February new rules were introduced in England raising the age for mandatory neck guards from under 18 to under 20. But they do not need to be worn by professional adult players, who also use less protective helmets.

In 1989 goalie Clint Malarchuk suffered a similar neck injury during an NHL game in Buffalo, New York. His life was saved by the quick action of a former US Army combat medic who served in Vietnam. He gripped his neck and pinched the severed vein until doctors arrived and kneeled on his collarbone to reduce his breathing rate.

In 2008 Richard Zednik also suffered a neck wound from an opponent’s skate blade. He lost five pints of blood and was saved by quick medical treatment.

‘The Panthers would like to send our thoughts and condolences to Adam’s family, his partner, and all his friends at this extremely difficult time.

‘Everyone at the club including players, staff, management and ownership are heartbroken at the news of Adam’s passing.

‘Our thoughts are also with the fans and staff of both clubs, especially those who attended or were following the game, who will be devastated following today’s news.

‘The Panthers would like to thank everyone who rushed to support Adam last night in the most testing of circumstances.

‘Adam, our number 47, was not only an outstanding ice hockey player, but also a great teammate and an incredible person with his whole life ahead of him. The club will dearly miss him and will never ever forget him.

‘We ask that the privacy of Adam’s family and friends, and everyone at the club is respected at this difficult time as we all seek to come to terms with our grief.’

Yesterday’s three Elite League games in Belfast, Fife and Guildford were postponed following Johnson’s death, while Nottingham later confirmed via X that tomorrow’s home contest against the Glasgow Clan had also been postponed.

The statement read: ‘The club will provide updates on our website and social media regarding future fixtures and all ticket information for postponed games as soon as it is possible to do so.

‘We ask for everyone’s understanding and patience regarding this news and ask that fans refrain from emailing or contacting the club as our staff come to terms with today’s tragic news.’

Johnson played for Pittsburgh Penguins in the National Hockey League before spending the 2020-21 season in Sweden with the Malmo Redhawks.

Tributes were left to Adam Johnson at Sheffield's Utilita Arena yesterday by fans of both teams

Tributes were left to Adam Johnson at Sheffield’s Utilita Arena yesterday by fans of both teams 

Fans lay flowers outside the Motorpoint Arena in Nottingham yesterday after Johnson's death

Fans lay flowers outside the Motorpoint Arena in Nottingham yesterday after Johnson’s death

Tributes to Adam Johnson have also been left outside the Motorpoint Arena in Nottingham

Tributes to Adam Johnson have also been left outside the Motorpoint Arena in Nottingham 

The Penguins said in a statement: ‘The Pittsburgh Penguins join the entire hockey world in mourning the loss of Adam Johnson, whose life tragically ended far too soon.

‘We offer our deepest condolences to Adam’s family and friends, as well as all of Adam’s past and present teammates and coaches.

‘Adam will always be a part of the Penguins family. It was our honor to watch him fulfill his dream of playing in the National Hockey League.’

The NHL also passed on its condolences. A statement said: ‘The National Hockey League family mourns the passing of former Pittsburgh Penguin Adam Johnson. 

‘Our prayers and deepest condolences go to his family, friends and teammates.’

Johnson went on to play in the American Hockey League for the Ontario Reign and in Germany for the Augsburger Panther before agreeing to join Nottingham for the 2023-24 campaign.

A statement from the Elite Ice Hockey League read: ‘The Elite Ice Hockey League is heartbroken to confirm that Nottingham Panthers forward Adam Johnson sadly passed away following a freak accident in Saturday’s game between Sheffield Steelers and Nottingham Panthers,’ read a league statement.

‘In light of this deeply upsetting news, the Elite League has postponed all games scheduled to take place on Sunday October 29, 2023.

‘The thoughts and condolences of everyone connected with the EIHL are with Adam’s family, friends and teammates at this incredibly sad and difficult time.’

Players and staff observe a silence for Adam Johnson at Hillsborough in Sheffield yesterday

Players and staff observe a silence for Adam Johnson at Hillsborough in Sheffield yesterday

A video tribute to Adam Johnson before an Edmonton Oilers match in Alberta yesterday

A video tribute to Adam Johnson before an Edmonton Oilers match in Alberta yesterday

Ontario Reign players carried out a touching tribute to Adam Johnson on the ice yesterday

Sheffield said in their own statement: ‘Everyone at the Steelers send their condolences to Adam Johnson’s partner, family and teammates.’

And Barrie Archer, chair of the English Ice Hockey Association, said: ‘The entire EIHA is heartbroken and deeply saddened by Adam’s passing. 

‘This is a tragic accident and our thoughts and prayers go out to Adam’s family, friends and ice hockey family at this difficult time.’ 



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