Adam Johnson’s Death Has Lasting Impact on Hockey Community

Ryan D’Amico
Staff Writer

American hockey player Adam Johnson’s death shocked the hockey community. Johnson, from Hibbing, Minnesota, was born on November 22, 1993, when a Challenge Cup game in England ended his starting career. Nottingham Panthers player Adam Johnson had been playing a tense match against Sheffield Steelers on the day that he died. The second-period disaster that killed Johnson, 29, took the game to an inconceivable level. An uncommon and devastating hockey skate slash to the neck killed him. Johnson played 13 NHL games with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2019 and 2020. Authorities reacted quickly after Adam Johnson’s death. Matt Petgrave, the skater whose skate slashed Johnson’s neck, was apprehended for manslaughter. This event sparked concerns about player safety and heightened investigation into equipment and on-ice safety practices.

The Pittsburgh Penguins, who Adam Johnson briefly played for in the NHL, honored Johnson following his tragic death (Joe Sargent/NHLI via Getty Images)

In the NHL, commissioner Gary Bettman strongly encouraged the players to wear neck guards following Johnson’s death as did the NHL Players Association. Tyler Bertuzzi, of the Toronto Maple Leafs, was the first player in their established franchise history to adopt to wearing a neck guard full time in a game against the Chicago Blackhawks. Bertuzzi’s adoption of the neck guard has made some of his teammates including veteran defenseman Mark Giordono consider wearing the neck guard during games although they have not adopted the safety strategy quite yet.

Meanwhile, TJ Oshie, of the Washington Capitals, has been a part of the Warroad brand, a company that has now been ahead of its time in protective equipment for hockey players. Oshie helped the company develop a comfortable and adaptable neck guard prior to Johnson’s death and he wore it for the first time shortly following Johnson’s death and was only the second NHL player to wear a neck guard following the incident. Rasmus Dahlin, a defenseman on the Buffalo Sabres, was the first to debut a neck guard but he took it off after one period of action. Dahlin said he was ready to fully embrace a neck guard and hoped his fellow players would follow suit, but felt that he was not quite yet prepared to be fully adjusted to wearing the guard in a game.

Washington Capitals foward TJ Oshie wearing a neck guard following Johnson’s death (AJP)

The NHL Players Association seems to be in a similar state to Dahlin. While the Association has recommmended players to wear neck guards, they have not decided yet whether a mandate on a neck guard would be a suitable option in the future. The head of the Association, Marty Smith, said following Johnson’s death that it is something the Association will continue to have conversations on whether a mandate could happen in the future and Smith said it is very possible that change is coming.

The media has been showing its interest in trying to get neck-guards and safety higher since his tragic death. One of the greatest players of all time, Wayne Gretzky, discussed on a TNT pregame panel after Johnson’s death about all NHL players should adjust and wear neck guards at all times. Johnson’s family has spoken and so has Petgrave. It’s become clear that Johnson’s death will have a lasting impact on the game of hockey around the world as the English authorities are conducting a deeper investigation on if the leg kick that led the players blade up was intentional or unintentional.

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