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Police investigate death in English hockey game

SHEFFIELD, England (AP) – Police are investigating the death of US ice hockey player Adam Johnson after his neck was cut by a skate blade in a game in England.

Johnson, 29, was playing for the Nottingham Panthers at the Sheffield Steelers when he suffered the skate cut in a Champions Cup game on Saturday. He died at a hospital. He was a Minnesota native who appeared in a total of 13 NHL games with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2019 and 2020.

“Our officers remain at the scene carrying out inquiries and our investigation into the circumstances surrounding the incident remain ongoing,” South Yorkshire Police said on Monday. “We would encourage the public to avoid speculation regarding the incident while we continue our inquiries.”

The English Ice Hockey Association, which governs the sport below the Elite League, reacted to Johnson’s death by requiring all players in England to wear neck guards from the start of 2024.

Neck guards will be mandatory from January 1 for all on-ice activities. The EIHA gave on Monday its “strong recommendation” that all players start wearing a neck guard, effective immediately. It said neck guards would not be mandatory immediately because of anticipated supply issues.

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

Players in the UK are allowed to play without neck guards after they turn 18.

Within 12 months, the EIHA said it would conduct a “thorough” review of player safety equipment “including, but not limited to, the use of helmets, mouthguards/gumshields and facial protection.”

All clubs will have to demonstrate they “proactively manage player safety.”

The body said its actions aligned with Ice Hockey UK and Scottish Ice Hockey.

“We are firmly committed to our obligation to exhaust every possible means to ensure that a tragic incident of this nature never befalls our sport again,” the EIHA said.

“Undoubtedly, this moment in time casts a sombre shadow upon our global sporting community, serving as a stark reminder of our collective responsibilities as custodians of the sport. As in all sports, the safety of our players must take precedence above all else.”

Johnson’s death and its aftermath reverberated around the hockey community, with moments of silence held around the NHL and the Penguins adding “AJ 47” decals to their helmets.

The Anaheim Ducks joined the Penguins at centre ice for a tribute to Johnson before Monday’s game.

Pittsburgh Penguins forward Adam Johnson in action during an NHL hockey game in Columbus, Ohio on September 22, 2017. PHOTO: AP

A black-and-white photo of Johnson was displayed on the scoreboard and a white spotlight on centre ice. The video tribute included Johnson’s debut in Nashville and his first NHL goal in Minnesota. Instead of a moment of silence, the Penguins asked for one final cheer for Johnson, as fans applauded and players tapped their sticks around the centre circle.

The Penguins started their third line on Monday to honour Johnson, who joined the organisation in 2017.

“It’s an incredible tragedy,” Pittsburgh coach Mike Sullivan said. “He was a great kid. It was a privilege to be his coach.”

Hockey manufacturer Bauer called for collaboration around the sport for increased awareness and a mandate on cut-resistant neck protection.

“Along with the larger hockey community, we mourn Adam’s tragic passing,” CEO Ed Kinnaly said in a statement. “We believe now is the time for the hockey community to collectively come together to take meaningful action in an urgent manner.”

Kinnaly said Bauer was committed to educating parents and players on the importance of cut-resistant gear, work with professional athletes to get feedback on product design and collaborate with governing bodies such as USA Hockey and Hockey Canada and youth organisations to mandate and enforce neck protection.

Washington Capitals winger TJ Oshie, who co-owns the Warroad Hockey equipment and apparel company named after his hometown in Minnesota, said he received roughly 100 texts from other players inquiring about cut-resistant materials and that the entire inventory sold out Sunday.

“It’s just crazy, sad, and we don’t have anything left,” Oshie said after practice Monday. “We’re thinking about his family first. We’ll try to get as many products out there as we can for people.”

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