Ice hockey players tap sticks on ice in Johnson tribute

Ice hockey players and fans have paid tribute to the late Adam Johnson at Nottingham’s Motorpoint Arena.

The 29-year-old American died after his neck was cut by a skate while playing for Nottingham Panthers away to Sheffield Steelers on 28 October.

That game was abandoned and the Panthers played their first game since the incident on Saturday.

A sell-out crowd gathered for the Adam Johnson Memorial Game, with Manchester Storm providing the opposition.

“We felt a lot of love, I think that’s what the night was about,” the Panthers’ assistant coach Kevin Moore told the BBC.

“Adam was a guy who just loved to be around the players and supportive of his team-mates. Everybody was supporting each other on the bench tonight and that’s who Adam was as a person. I think a lot of the guys took his spirit tonight and applied that.”

Fans continued to lay flowers and offerings in tribute outside the arena for Johnson, who had a spell with the Pittsburgh Penguins in the NHL and joined the Panthers in August, before the 2023-24 season.

The crowd of about 7,500 chanted Johnson’s name as the players took to the ice. The players then gathered in the centre and as the arena lights faded, a picture of Johnson was displayed on the main scoreboard above the rink.

During the pre-game ceremony, there was applause from the crowd while the players tapped their sticks on the ice, and the spectators rose to offer a minute’s applause after 47 minutes. The Panthers are retiring Johnson’s jersey number – 47.

Players on both teams wore memorial jerseys bearing Johnson’s name and number, which will be raffled. Other memorial merchandise was available, with all profits being donated to the ‘Love for Hibbing & Hockey Memorial Fund’, which was established to support charitable causes in Johnson’s hometown area of Hibbing, Minnesota.

“Adam was an outstanding person,” added Rick Strachan, the Panthers’ other assistant coach. “He was humble, he was funny, he was a great team-mate, easy-going and easy to coach.

“I’m sure he would have appreciated it today. The goal was to honour him and the boys did a great job of doing that.”

The Panthers will return to competitive action with an Elite League game at home to Belfast Giants on 26 November.

‘Like a bear hug around the team’

Joe Lynskey, BBC Sport at Motorpoint Arena

It was surprising to witness how uplifting and positive tonight’s experience was at the Nottingham Arena, given the utterly tragic circumstances in which this match took place.

When the Panthers took to the ice there was a roar from the 7,500-strong crowd that reverberated round Nottingham.

The moments of reflection on Adam’s life, and the retiring of his number 47 shirt, only added to the sense of poignancy.

The Panthers’ assistant coach Kevin Moore said the reaction was like a “bear hug” around the team. And it wasn’t just local fans here. Outside we spoke to supporters from Leeds, Sheffield and Manchester, a reflection of how this awful incident has united this sporting community.

Somehow, through this tragedy ice hockey’s Elite League must find a way to go on. Tonight the Panthers showed that is possible.