The family of the ice hockey player who died after having his throat cut by a skate during a game say they knew he was “really in trouble” as soon as it happened.
American player Adam Johnson’s aunt Kari watched him play for the Nottingham Panthers via livestream with her father and grandmother when he was fatally injured last Saturday.
“It was terrible, it was horrible, we didn’t know what to do,” she told Sky News from Minnesota, US. There was “nothing we could do,” she said.
The 29-year-old was playing at the Sheffield Arena in his team’s derby against the Sheffield Steelers last Saturday when the freak accident happened – and he died from his injuries in hospital.
A vigil is taking place this evening at the Motorpoint Arena in Nottingham, where the Panthers are based. Neither the Panthers nor the Steelers are playing this weekend.
“It means a lot to us to see how much everyone was thinking of our boy,” Ms. Johnson said of the vigil. “He loved it there (Nottingham), he thought the fans were great, he met some of them and he really enjoyed it.
“It means a lot to our family. It means to the world.”
She described watching the game via live stream with her family and how they “knew right away he was in trouble.”
One of his teammates eventually got his phone back and called Johnson’s father, telling him he would keep in touch.
After learning of Johnson’s death, his aunt said: “We all broke down. It was a disaster, it was a nightmare, it was like it wasn’t real. We were in shock , we couldn’t believe this was happening.”
Ms Johnson described her nephew as a “kind soul” and a “deprived child” who “would never have wanted to be in the spotlight like this”.
He just wanted to be “good at hockey and have fun”, she said, adding that he was “having the time of his life in the UK” and was planning to get engaged to his girlfriend.
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“It was right to go down.”
For three and a half hours, they laid out on the ice at Motorpoint Arena where Adam Johnson once played.
A Manchester Storm fan fought back tears in the torrential rain and said: “This could have happened to any guy from any team.”
Inside, a giant screen showed a video tribute to number 47, who had just joined the Midlands team.
One Panthers fan told me she cried all day when she heard the news.
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It was announced Friday that the Elite Ice Hockey League (EIHL) will not make wearing the neck compulsory after Johnson’s death.
Ms. Johnson thinks they should be. “When kids start playing youth hockey, if you get them used to wearing it, it will be like any other piece of equipment,” she said.
A funeral will be held Sunday in Johnson’s hometown of Hibbing, Minnesota.