South Yorkshire Police have announced an arrest in connection to the death of American hockey player Adam Johnson. The 29-year-old Minnesota native was playing for the Nottingham Panthers in a Challenge Cup game against the Sheffield Steelers last month when his throat was slashed during the second period of the game by an opposing player.
While the force has refused to confirm the identity of the man in their custody, most are speculating that the individual is Matt Petgrave, whose mid-game “kung-fu kick” at Johnson resulted in the gruesome injury.
The incident first prompted widespread outrage after graphic video began to circulate on social media showing Johnson’s tragic final moments.
In the second half the game, held at the Utilita Arena Sheffield, Petgrave was seen colliding with Johnson skate-first, as his leg twists upwards in what appeared to be a deliberate attempt to make physical contact.
Immediately, Johnson falls to the ground but quickly attempts to right himself. Blood is visible on the ice as he moves to stand, with other players reacting in obvious shock and horror. A Sheffield and a Nottingham player were then frantically seen rushing to the side of the rink in a desperate call for help.
Johnson was led away by a frantic teammate, with a trail of blood flowing onto the rink as he moved. A brief shot was captured of Johnson holding his neck as he rapidly bleeds out, with videographers likely not knowing the extent of the injuries before zooming in.
More than 8,000 fans were hastily evacuated from the arena as medical staff rushed to attend to Johnson, and his death was confirmed shortly after by the Nottingham Panthers on social media.
Tributes soon after rolled in from Johnson’s former teams, with the Malmö Redhawks and Pittsburgh Penguins mourning the loss of the young player.
In their statement, the Penguins added “it was our honor to watch him fulfill his dream of playing in the National Hockey League.”
But while media was quick to dismiss the incident as a “freak accident,” speculation spread like wildfire on social media, with many pinning the blame solidly on Petgrave for his dramatic move.
Others noted that this wasn’t Petgrave’s first incident of bad behavior on the ice, and that the player had the most EIHL penalty minutes in the 2022-2023 season. He is also no stranger to lengthy suspensions and fines for his actions during games, having records of both over the years.
Petgrave was booted from two out of the four games he played last season for allegedly jabbing another player with his stick and abusing officials.
While South Yorkshire Police (SYP) were contacted to launch an investigation following the incident, they initially placed no emphasis on Petgrave’s role. Today, they confirmed they arrested one man on suspicion of manslaughter, but have refused to identify the individual they have taken into custody.
“Our investigation launched immediately following this tragedy and we have been carrying out extensive enquiries ever since to piece together the events which led to the loss of Adam in these unprecedented circumstances,” SYP detective chief superintendent Becs Horsfall said in a statement.
“We have been speaking to highly specialised experts in their field to assist in our enquiries and continue to work closely with the health and safety department at Sheffield City Council, which is supporting our ongoing investigation.”
On November 12, the Sheffield Steelers returned to Utilita Arena Sheffield for their first game since Johnson’s death. Two minutes of silence was held in tribute to Johnson, and a wreath was set on the rink in his memory. While Petgrave was absent from the game, the more than 8,000 fans in attendance gave him a standing ovation when his photo was shown on the video board.