Adam Johnson of the EIHL’s Nottingham Panthers suffered a fatal cut during a Challenge Cup game against the Sheffield Steelers last night at Utilita Arena. During the second period he collided with an opponent who fell awkwardly and cut Johnson in the neck and throat area with his skate. Medical personnel tried unsuccessfully to treat Johnson on ice, and the game was immediately abandoned.
Johnson, a native of Grand Rapids, Minnesota, was just 29.
“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,” the team said in a statement. “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. Rest in peace Adam.”
Johnson had signed with the Panthers just two months ago after having played for Augsburger in the DEL last season. During his seven years of professional hockey, he was the very embodiment of determination and ambition. He was never drafted by an NHL team and never even had any interest from an NCAA team. After graduating from high school, he played in the USHL for three years. It was his play there that got him an offer from the University of Minnesota-Duluth at age 21, where he had two very successful seasons.
His time with the Bulldogs was punctuated by an overtime goal in 2017 that put his team in the Frozen Four finals. Johnson’s two-way play, superior skating, and puck sense at the NCAA level led to an invitation to the Pittsburgh Penguins’ development camp, and after an impressive showing at that opportunity he left the Bulldogs to sign with the Pens on July 6, 2017.
He played all of the next season with the team’s AHL affiliate in Wilkes/Barre, but late the following season he was called up to “The Show” and made his NHL debut on March 21, 2019.
“He’s really good on the forecheck,” Pittsburgh coach Mike Sullivan said of Johnson at the time. “We know he’ll bring a lot of energy. He has good offensive instincts.”
“It’s been a long time coming,” Johnson enthused after arriving in Pittsburgh for his debut. “This is what I’ve been working for my whole life. I’m pumped to be here. I hope to contribute any way I can.”
Johnson played several games that year and the year after, scoring his only NHL goal on October 12, 2019, against his home-state Minnesota Wild. He blasted in a rebound off a Sam Lafferty shot before going down on one knee and fist pumping in celebration for his moment of glory.
"I just hoped I could get all of it…and it ended up in the back of the net,” an elated Johnson said after that game. “I was happy I got lucky enough for it to bounce right to me. It was a good shot by Lafferty there."
When COVID-19 shut down so much of the world, Johnson decided to move to Sweden to play, signing with Malmo for part of the 2020-21 season. He returned to the AHL for a couple of more seasons before deciding to move to Germany for 2022-23.
“The Pittsburgh Penguins join the entire hockey world in mourning the loss of Adam Johnson, whose life tragically ended far too soon,” the NHL club posted on X (formerly Twitter). “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 honour to watch him fulfill his dream of playing in the National Hockey League.”
“We are deeply saddened to learn that former Hibbing star and UMD Bulldog Adam Johnson passed away after suffering a tragic injury on Saturday night with Nottingham Panthers,” the Wild added. “The State of Hockey is grieving for Adam, his family, and his hockey community.
Johnson is survived by his parents, Davey and Susan, and an older brother, Ryan.