Johnson died after his throat was slit by an errant skate blade in a collision with Sheffield Steelers defenseman Matt Petgrave.
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. pic.twitter.com/lhSOkDu03Q
— The Nottingham Panthers (@PanthersIHC) October 29, 2023
As police continue to investigate Johnson’s death, here’s what you need to know about Petgrave.
What was Petgrave’s role in the incident?
Johnson was cutting into the offensive zone on a routine play. Petgrave went to finish his check on Johnson, lost his footing, and his skates ended up slicing Johnson’s neck. Johnson was removed from the game immediately as trainers attempted to stop the bleeding. The game was stopped and fans were eventually asked to leave.
Johnson received emergency treatment on the ice before being taken to Sheffield's Northern General Hospital, where he was pronounced dead. Nottingham confirmed Johnson’s death Sunday morning.
What has happened to Petgrave since?
Petgrave was not made available to the media and is reportedly "absolutely distraught" over the incident.
The 31-year-old Toronto native has been subject to death threats and abuse, particularly from right-wing social media accounts calling for Petgrave to be charged with manslaughter despite Nottingham and the EIHL describing the collision as a "freak accident."
Petgrave is Black and has been subject to immense racial abuse since Johnson's death. He has protected his Twitter account.
This has been a grotesque and alarming sight over the past couple of days. If you see this happening on your TL, speak up and shut it down, but be wary of blue checks farming engagement for (however meagre) money.
Matt Petgrave needs our support as much as anyone, right now. https://t.co/P7E8vGb0La
— Brandon Maki (@BrandonMaki_) October 30, 2023
What have Johnson's teammates said about Petgrave?
Panthers players have defended Petgrave in the wake of the tragedy.
“I need to address something about the accident. We wholeheartedly stand with Matt Petgrave,” Westin Michaud tweeted on Monday. “The hate that Matt is receiving is terrible and completely uncalled for. I was at ice level on the bench closest to the accident, I saw both players moving fast.
"The unintentional clip of the Panther player's leg by the Sheffield player caused the somersault. It's clear to me his actions were unintentional and anyone suggesting otherwise is mistaken. Let's come together and not spread unwarranted hate to someone who needs our support.”
“What Matt has experienced is unimaginable,” Bjorkung said, via a Google translation. “I don't understand how some people can behave, it's inhuman. I have texted him and expressed how I feel about everything and I support him. No one in our team thinks it's his fault, quite the opposite. We stand behind him.”
Bjorkung said anyone who thinks Petgrave's actions were intentional "can go to hell."
"It's so insane that people think it's deliberate," Bjorkung said. "Check the video, then you will see that it is an accident. Two skates collide right before, it goes so damn fast. There is no chance it is deliberate.
What has Petgrave’s hockey career been like?
Petgrave was a stellar defenseman in the Ontario Hockey League, playing five seasons with the Niagara IceDogs, Owen Sound Attack and Oshawa Generals before moving onto a four-year career with the University of New Brunswick. Although he proved capable of providing secondary offense with a physical presence at the OHL level, Petgrave was never selected by an NHL team.
Petgrave spent two seasons with the ECHL’s Brampton Beast, then inched one step closer to the NHL during the 2017-18 season, spending 15 games with three AHL teams while primarily featuring with Brampton. The veteran defenseman made stops in Slovakia and Czechia’s respective pro leagues before joining Sheffield last season.
Petgrave recorded nine goals and 48 points for Sheffield during the 2022-23 campaign.