By Mai-Lan Bui, November 7 2023—
The hockey world mourns the devastating passing of former Pittsburgh Penguins hockey player, Adam Johnson. On Oct. 28, Johnson was playing for the Nottingham Panthers in England when he received a cut to the throat by a skate blade during a collision with an opposing player. The match was stopped and fans were asked to leave the arena as Johnson managed to skate off the ice. At the age of 29, he tragically passed away at the hospital due to the severity of the injuries.
Johnson’s career story is one to remember, as the hockey player bounced around different leagues, leaving his mark on each of them. A Minnesota native, Johnson signed a two-year, entry-level contract with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2017, where at that time, played thirteen games in the NHL. In 2019, he scored his first and only goal in a victory over the Minnesota Wild in his hometown. A year later, Johnson decided to sign a deal with the Malmo Redhawks in the Swedish Hockey League (SHL) and then signed as a free agent for the rest of the season with the Ontario Reign of the AHL. Later on, he signed a one-year deal with the Augsburger Panthers and in 2023, Johnson joined the Nottingham Panthers of the Elite Ice Hockey League (EIHL), marking the final team for which he played.
It is a shocking event that has rocked the hockey community but has also brought it closer. The Pittsburgh Penguins paid an emotional tribute to the former player at the Sunday game on Sunday, Oct. 29 against the Anaheim Ducks. Rather than requesting a moment of silence, the organization asked everyone to cheer one final time for the celebration of the life of Adam Johnson. That same day, one of his former teams, AHL’s Ontario Reign, titled him as the team’s first star following their win over the Abbotsford Canucks. Along with many others, each tribute evoked a sorrowful, emotional, and bittersweet goodbye to a beloved teammate, family member, friend and member of the hockey community.
Johnson’s sudden death has prompted a reevaluation of safety measures within the sport for hockey players. Although cut-resistant equipment has been created and improved, currently, the NHL does not mandate the use of neck guards yet many have voiced their concerns over the ways organizations can improve player protection and prevent such tragic accidents in the future. In many minor league affiliate teams, wearing protective neck equipment has swiftly become mandatory, and in Canada, players under the age of sixteen must wear neck guards no matter where they play. For some NHL teams, such as the Pittsburgh Penguins, the Washington Capitals, and the Boston Bruins, there have been discussions on the implementation of neck protection. Shortly after Johnson’s passing, several NHL players have already begun wearing neck guards. Perhaps, as unfortunate as it may be, Johnson’s death may be the catalyst to change the rules of protective equipment for the safety of all players, no matter how experienced.
As discussions and investigations continue, there is no doubt that Adam Johnson’s contributions to the game of hockey will live on, leaving a lasting impact on the hearts of those who knew him. The heartbreaking loss of Johnson serves as a mournful reminder of the fragility of life as he leaves a void within the hockey community. His influence, even in death, extends beyond scores and statistics as he reminds us that camaraderie, team spirit, and passion embody the essence of hockey. Johnson will be missed and his memory will be a testament to the unity that makes hockey, as the saying goes, more than just a game.