LONDON — A man who was arrested on suspicion of manslaughter in the death of American ice hockey player Adam Johnson, whose neck was cut by a skate during a game, was released on bail Wednesday.
Johnson, 29, was playing for the Nottingham Panthers against the Sheffield Steelers on Oct. 28 when he was struck by an opponent’s skate blade in the Elite Ice Hockey League game at Sheffield’s home arena in central England.
A post-mortem examination confirmed he died as a result of a fatal neck injury, police said.
South Yorkshire Police did not name the suspect or provide his age. He was arrested on Tuesday, and released on bail on Wednesday pending further inquiries.
“Our investigation launched immediately following this tragedy and we have been carrying out extensive inquiries ever since to piece together the events which led to the loss of Adam in these unprecedented circumstances,” Detective Chief Superintendent Becs Horsfall said.
It would be rare, but not unprecedented, for a hockey player to be charged.
Giacinto “Jim” Boni was charged in Italy with culpable homicide after he slashed Miran Schrott in the chest during a game on Jan. 14, 1992, and Schrott died as a result of a cardiac event. Boni pleaded guilty to manslaughter.
Two NHL players in recent history have been charged with a crime in Canada for an on-ice action: Marty McSorley and Todd Bertuzzi.
In 2000, McSorley was found guilty of assault with a deadly weapon for a two-handed slash to the head of Donald Brashear with his stick. He was sentenced to 18 months probation.
In 2004, Bertuzzi pleaded guilty to assault for grabbing Steve Moore from behind and sucker-punching him. Bertuzzi agreed to a plea deal and was sentenced to one year probation and 80 hours of community service.
The Panthers said in a statement on social media that Johnson died tragically following a “freak accident.”
On Sunday, at the Steelers first home game since Johnson’s death, a moment of silence was held for him.
Johnson was a Minnesota native who appeared in a total of 13 NHL games with the Pittsburgh Penguins in the 2018-19 and 2019-20 seasons.
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.
A spokesman for the EIHL said the league cannot comment on an ongoing police investigation. A Nottingham Panthers spokesman said the organization had no comment. Messages seeking comment sent to Johnson’s agent, a friend of the family and the Sheffield Steelers were not immediately returned.
NHL VP of hockey operations Rod Pasma addressed general managers at their annual November meeting in Toronto on the matter of cut-proof equipment. Pasma said players have far more options than a decade ago, including 10 or more choices for wrist, body and Achilles tendon/foot protection.
“In the neck, we’re getting there,” Pasma said. “We (did not have) many a month ago, but as it sits today, I think there’s up to eight companies on my desk waiting to be cleared, and of those eight there’s probably 12-14 options to wear, should they choose.”
The league’s chief medical officer, Dr. Willem Meeuwisse, said team doctors and trainers took part in a big education session on major lacerations in the spring.
“We’re always tweaking and reviewing that kind of policy and procedure, equipment, personnel so we’re as prepared as possible to deal with a catastrophic injury,” Meeuwisse said. “We’re looking at, always, what could happen and how to prepare to deal with it best, and hopefully we don’t have the kind of bad outcome that happened a few weeks ago.”
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