Matt Petgrave is the hockey player for the Sheffield Steelers team in England whose skate blade fatally cut the neck of opposing player Adam Johnson.
As debate rages online about Petgrave and the incident, the South Yorkshire Police have confirmed they are investigating.
On November 14, 2023, police announced that they have a man in custody on suspicion of manslaughter in connection with Johnson’s death. They did not name the man, however.
Video of the moment shows Petgrave and Johnson, who was playing for the Nottingham Panthers in a Challenge Cup game, colliding on the ice during the game on Saturday, October 28, 2023. Johnson then got up before collapsing back on the ice.
On an old LinkedIn page, Petgrave wrote that he was a “highly motivated and competitive team player that wants nothing more than to win and willing to work hard. Acknowledged leader on and off ice; an alternate captain throughout my sports career.”
Here’s what you need to know:
1. The Nottingham Panthers Called the Death a ‘Freak Accident’
Yorkshire Live confirmed that the player who collided with Johnson was Steelers player Petgrave.
The Nottingham Panthers announced in a statement that Johnson had died from the “freak accident.”
“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 team shared on social media on October 29, 2023.
According to TMZ, Johnson “was taking the puck across the blue line” when Petgrave “kicked his skate into the air and struck Johnson in the throat area.”
After the injury occurred, the team wrote on X, “Fans have been asked to leave the building due to a major medical emergency.”
Some fans supported Petgrave, but others debated his actions on social media, raising questions about whether the kick was intentional or an accident. There are TikTok videos and Reddit threads devoted to the discussion.
𝐓𝐎 𝐌𝐀𝐓𝐓 𝐏𝐄𝐓𝐆𝐑𝐀𝐕𝐄 | In the face of tragedy, we find strength in supporting one another. Today, I want to send my deepest support and empathy to Matt Petgrave, who was on the other side of the freak accident that tragically ended up taking the life of ice hockey player Adam Johnson.
Life can be incredibly unpredictable, and we often find ourselves in situations we could have never foreseen. Matt, we can’t imagine the pain and sorrow you must be feeling, and we want you to know that you are not alone in this difficult time. We, as a community, stand beside you and offer our unwavering support.
Our thoughts and prayers go out to you, Matt, and to the Johnson family and friends as well.
In a comment on the post, the page clarified, “I’m sure the consensus of the hockey community will be a balanced view that events were a freak accident that led to the untimely death of a player in the most tragic circumstances. We understand that everyone will be experiencing different emotions regarding the situation as we begin to process the last 24 hours.”
However, others disagreed. “Matt Petgrave needs to be charged with manslaughter for killing Adam Johnson on the ice. What a dirty play,” wrote one man on X. A person in that comment thread disagreed, writing, “The defender lost his balance and his blades on his feet caught the offensive players throat. That isn’t manslaughter. It’s the risk of playing hockey. Just like Football players having heart attacks, or boxers dying in the ring.”
Ultimately, police will determine whether there is any criminal liability.
2. Matt Petgrave, Who Was Born in Toronto, Canada, Has Played in 8 Different Hockey Leagues
According to the National Hockey League’s website, Petgrave was born in Toronto, Canada, in 1992. He is 6 foot 1 inch tall and 201 pounds, according to that website.
Petgrave was listed as undrafted. The website lists a number of teams that he played for over the years, including the Niagara IceDogs and Syracuse Crunch. Most recently, he is listed as playing for the Sheffield Steelers.
According to HockeyDB.com, “Matt Petgrave played in eight leagues over the course of his career.” That site has a listing of his career stats.
A biography on 3ice reports that Petgrave played at the University of New Brunswick and “appeared in 200 ECHL games over six seasons, four with the Brampton Beast…scored 98 points in 140 games and was twice named an ECHL All-Star…spent the last two seasons overseas, in Slovakia, the Czech Republic and, most recently, in England with the Sheffield Steelers.” Petgrave’s LinkedIn page says that he studied business administration in college. The page says he was named an “Academic All-Canadian (2014, 2015).”
When Petgrave joined the KC Mavericks, head coach Tad O’Had said in a statement that is now unavailable on the team’s website: “We are very pleased to be adding Matt Petgrave. Matt is a very skilled puck moving defenseman that has ample AHL and ECHL experience. Matt makes us better, he has been a great addition to a strong Florida line-up and logged major minutes for them all season.”
3. Matt Petgrave Has Been Described as His League’s ‘Most Penalized Player,’ but He’s Also Mentored Youth
3ice described Petgrave as “the EIHL’s most penalized player” while playing for the Sheffield Steelers.
Euro Hockey listed Petgrave as the league’s penalty leader for 2022-23 for the EIHL. The page says he had 129 PIM or “penalty infraction minutes.”
Although that site doesn’t list the infractions, it’s possible to find old box scores showing Petgrave’s penalties. For example, he accrued a penalty for “tripping” in 2015-16 for New Brunswick, according to a box score for that game. He had a penalty for “holding” in 2020 while playing for the Utica Comets, in another example. He was called for “spearing” in a 2022 game with the Sheffield Steelers, according to the Elite Ice Hockey League.
From 2013 to 2017, he was listed as having 328 career penalty minutes, according to Vredshockey.com.
In 2010, Petgrave was suspended for five games, according to the Canadian Hockey League, which wrote, “Matt Petgrave will sit out the next five games for an infraction in the third period of last Saturday’s 9-4 win over Sarnia.”
In 2018, the ECHL announced that “Brampton’s Matt Petgrave has been suspended indefinitely and fined an undisclosed amount as a result of his actions in ECHL Game #963, Brampton at Kalamazoo, on April 7.” The ECHL is a mid-level professional ice hockey league based in New Jersey.
That same year, he was suspended for one game, according to the American Hockey League, which wrote on its website, “Laval Rocket defenseman Matt Petgrave has been suspended for one (1) game as a consequence of a slew-footing incident in a game at Toronto on Mar. 28. Petgrave was suspended under the provisions of AHL Rule 21.1 after being assessed a match penalty. He will miss Laval’s game tonight (Mar. 30) at Binghamton.”
According to the U.S. Hockey Rule Book, “Slew Footing is the act of a player using his leg or foot to knock or kick an opponent’s feet from under him.”
A statement on the ECHL’s website said, “Petgrave is fined and suspended under Rule #28 – Supplementary Discipline as a result of his actions at 3:46 of the third period. Petgrave will miss Brampton’s game against Adirondack today (April 8) and any further discipline will be announced at a later date.” That article did not provide additional details.
According to his LinkedIn page, Petgrave says he helped mentor youth interested in hockey, writing that he was “responsible for the hockey development of students age 7-adult. The skills I developed from teaching, especially the younger kids are life forming. Through this job I learned the importance of patience, clear communication and persistence.”
He has also worked as a summer associate for Pure Octane, which sells household products, according to his LinkedIn page.
A man named Sebastian Jackson who says he knows Petgrave and whose X profile lists his experience as a girls’ hockey club volunteer wrote, “Matt Petgrave had to lock all of his socials due to death threats, & people just being absolute scum bag humans. I’ve met Matt, plenty of times. If you think because he has a lot of penalty minutes that he’s a horrible human you’re wrong. Quit being a** hole humans for f*** sake.”
He added that some people were calling Petgrave racial slurs on X, and wrote, “Matt is one of the nicest guys you’d ever meet. It’s a freak accident but some of you just want to drag someone for the sake of it.”
4. The South Yorkshire Police Confirmed They Are Investigating Adam Johnson’s Death but Did Not Mention Matt Petgrave
The South Yorkshire Police released a statement on their website. It says:
We were called at 8.25pm on Saturday 28 October to reports that a player had been seriously injured during a Sheffield Steelers versus Nottingham Panthers game at the Utilita Arena in Sheffield.
Officers attended the scene alongside other emergency services and one man, aged in his 20s, was taken to hospital with serious injuries. Sadly, he was later pronounced deceased at hospital.
Our officers remain at the scene carrying out enquiries and our investigation into the circumstances surrounding the incident remain ongoing.
We would encourage the public to avoid speculation regarding the incident while we continue our enquiries.
5. Matt Petgrave Spoke About Breaking Barriers as Hockey Player in a Video for Black History Month
A 2021 video on Florida Everblades Facebook page says, “For Black History Month, defenseman Matt Petgrave sits down with Mike Folta for a discussion on race and growing diversity in hockey.”
“When you’re a kid you’re kind of naïve to everything around you so you’re not necessarily focused on the color of your skin,” Petgrave said in that video.
He said he attended a hockey camp called an “Ebony camp” specifically for Black hockey players. In the United States, he said he would receive comments about his race.
“There were a couple incidents,” he said.
“It wasn’t a great feeling, but I didn’t let it affect me that much,” Petgrave said, adding that he had developed tough skin. He said that “anything you put your mind to you can do, and you can break those barriers.”
Petgrave broke his wrist while playing hockey in 2012.
Johnson’s biography on the Panthers’ page says he was born in Minnesota. He was 29 years old and “played in four of the world’s best leagues including 13 games for NHL side Pittsburgh Penguins.” According to that bio, he was born in the United States.
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