HIBBING, Minn. (AP) — Adam Johnson was humble, kind and smart, and most of all an athlete.
Thousands gathered Monday to remember the 29-year-old American hockey player who died after his neck was cut by a skate blade.
The 29-year-old Johnson died late last month after being cut by a blade during a game in England. Johnson, who appeared in 13 NHL games with the Pittsburgh Penguins in 2019 and 2020, was playing for the Nottingham Panthers in a Challenge Cup game against the Sheffield Steelers when he suffered the skate cut during the Elite Ice Hockey League contest.
Family, friends and former teammates gathered to celebrate the life of the former Hibbing High School, University of Minnesota-Duluth, Penguins and Nottingham player.
“Adam was a joyful, kind human being. He had a quiet unselfishness about him, but he was a guy you wanted to be around all of the time,” said James Perunovich, a spokesperson for the Johnson family. “He didn’t have to say much. You were a better person as a result of meeting him.
“Everyone knew who Adam was. He wasn’t just a tremendous hockey player. He was a tremendous athlete. … Everything he did, he excelled at.”
The memorial was held a day after Johnson’s funeral. Scott Pionk, also a family spokesman, relayed how former Hibbing assistant coach Grant Clafton described Johnson.
“He said Adam was known as joyfully grumpy, but once he met Ryan (Johnson’s fiancée Ryan Wolfe), he was just joyful,” Pionk said. “That was the best thing I heard all day. That was awesome.”
Johnson was also remember for his hockey talent.
He spent 13 games over parts of the 2018-19 and 2019-20 seasons playing for Pittsburgh in the NHL before spending the 2020-21 season in Sweden with the Malmo Redhawks. He had a goal and three assists for the Penguins.
Johnson helped Minnesota-Duluth reach two NCAA Tournaments. He scored an overtime game-winner in the 2017 tournament, sending the Bulldogs to the Frozen Four by beating Boston University.
He also played for three American Hockey League clubs during his career and in Germany with the Augsburger Panther in 2022-23 before agreeing to join Nottingham for this season.
Johnson’s death has led to further discussions about cut-resistant protection in the NHL and other leagues.
“He was a great player,” Pionk said. “I’ll remember him flying around in high school with his jersey flapping behind his back. We see enough hockey players come through here that if you’re not a great guy, that part has to stay for the rest of your life. The hockey part is going to go away. We have to keep them humble. Hibbing did a great job with him. He was a great young man.”
Perunovich said Johnson’s family is handling things the best they can.
“Everybody is feeling the same,” Perunovich said. “I don’t think the words are as important as the emotions. We had people come in from all over the world here with their hugs and tears.
“We’re hurting bad up here right now. It’s going to take awhile. Nobody can understand it, but maybe God needed him more than we did.”
AP NHL: https://apnews.com/hub/NHL