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Nottingham Panthers’ ice hockey player Adam Johnson dies after ‘freak injury’

Tributes have been paid to a 29-year-old professional ice hockey player who died after a “freak accident” during a Challenge Cup match between Nottingham Panthers and Sheffield Steelers on Saturday night.

Adam Johnson, originally from Minnesota in the US, died after appearing to suffer a catastrophic cut to his neck from a blade during the match at Sheffield arena.

Witnesses described the accident as horrific leaving many fans in tears as the match was abandoned. Johnson’s team, Nottingham Panthers, confirmed his death on Sunday morning.

In a statement the team said: “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 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.”

The club described Johnson, “our number 47”, as “not only an outstanding ice hockey player, but also a great teammate and an incredible person with his whole life ahead of him”.

Witnesses described the incident which led to Johnson’s death as a freak clash. Christian Bennett, a Guardian journalist who was at the match, said: “Two players blindsided each other, just bumped into each other.

“The Sheffield player clearly got knocked off his feet and his skate went up and slit [the other player’s] throat. I’ve never seen that amount of blood come out of anyone at any sort of pace. It is one of the grimmest things I’ve ever seen at a sports event.”

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Johnson got up again and tried to skate before collapsing after about three steps.

There were around 8,000 people watching, some of them children. “It was an absolute family atmosphere … everyone was crying,” said Bennett, the Guardian’s executive editor for visual journalism.

“They made an announcement for everyone to leave but to stay in their cars so the ambulance could get there and they put screens up around him.

“When I went out on to the concourse there were kids bawling uncontrollably, because of the level of blood which came out of his neck. It was genuinely a freak accident.”

A spokesperson for Yorkshire ambulance service said they were called out at 8.21pm to attend Sheffield Arena following “an incident on the ice”. Two ambulances and a critical care paramedic were in attendance and one person was treated at the scene and conveyed to hospital.

The Elite Ice Hockey League said it was “heartbroken” to confirm that Johnson died after the accident. In light of the “deeply upsetting” news all games scheduled to take place on Sunday 29 October were postponed, it said.

“The thoughts and condolences of everyone connected with the EIHL are with Adam’s family, friends and teammates at this incredibly sad and difficult time. We would also ask everyone to respect the privacy of Adam’s family at this time.

“Many of us will have found Saturday’s events very distressing. Please take care of yourselves, and each other.”

The head coach of Glasgow Clan ice hockey club, Jason Morgan, said: “My heart breaks and I want to send my sincere condolences on behalf of the Glasgow Clan hockey club. Our thoughts and prayers at this time go out to the Johnson family and friends.

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“The Nottingham organisation will need everyone’s support as they navigate through this tragic accident as the UK hockey family grieves together as another tragedy has taken place. It’s a sad day for the sport as we mourn one of our own.”

On Twitter, now known as X, other league teams also expressed their condolences. Manchester Storm ice hockey club said: “Our thoughts, prayers and full support are with those involved at the Nottingham Panthers and Sheffield Steelers organisations after last night’s freak accident. This is a deeply tragic accident and at a loss for words – but all at Manchester Storm offer our love and support.”

Leeds Knights said: “In reading the devastating news about Adam Johnson, we join the rest of the hockey community in sending our deepest condolences. Our thoughts are with his family, friends, teammates and everyone involved last night, RIP Adam.”

Johnson signed for the Panthers in August after a career which has included spells playing for the Pittsburgh Penguins, Malmö Redhawks in Sweden and Augsburger Panther in Germany.

Notts County football club said: “We are heartbroken to hear this tragic news and send our love and thoughts to Adam’s family, the Panthers and everyone affected.”