The Nottingham Panthers held a memorial game at the Motorpoint Arena in honour of their player Adam Johnson, playing against Manchester Storm in a friendly match on Saturday night. Natalie Owen was at the game to report for LeftLion. Here's how they got on…
If you haven’t read in the news recently, Adam Johnson tragically died this year during a game against the Sheffield Steelers, and the Nottingham Panthers had not been on the ice since the awful event happened. With the help of Manchester Storm, both clubs decided to play a friendly match, which would have been a Challenge Cup game, on Saturday 18 November - with the tie becoming a memorial game dedicated to Johnson.
Adam’s death has shocked not only the ice hockey community within the UK, but it has shocked the entire world. Hearing the sad news the next day after the game against the Sheffield Steelers was the beginning of ice hockey in the UK to be spoken about more than it ever has been talked about before. The event has also united ice hockey teams and fans together, such as the Sheffield Steelers and the Nottingham Panthers, who have historically had a rivalry on the ice. US fans of the sport have also shared well wishes to UK fans during this difficult time.
During Adam’s memorial game, the doors opened to not only Nottingham and Manchester fans, but every fan in the league who proudly sat together to remember Panther’s 47.
The match began with applause for both teams entering the ice, with players wearing special jerseys designed with Adam’s number 47 on them, along with his number on their helmets. The referees proudly wore the number 47 on their backs, too. The Nottingham Panthers will be raffling their jerseys, with the proceeds going to Adam Johnson’s family charity, the Love for Hibbing and Hockey Memorial Fund.
Before the match, both teams joined each other, bumping fists and hugging as they created a circle underneath the jumbotron where a tribute video was played, showing footage of Adam playing for the Nottingham Panthers. Not a dry eye was in sight as all sets of fans watched on. The video and match game was also played across the world on YouTube for anyone who was unable to get tickets, as the game was a sell-out - with thousands in attendance. The video ended and the world was told that the Nottingham Panthers are retiring Adam’s shirt, meaning no other player can wear the jersey and Adam will forever be Panthers’ number 47.
The match itself saw Manchester taking the lead through Michael Korol, before Ollie Betteridge scored fifteen seconds later, making it 1-1 at the end of the first period. Cameron Critchlow put Storm ahead for the second time in the second period, but once again the Panthers, through Jake Ryczek, scored just 47 seconds later. Panthers’ Didrik Henbrant scored goal number three, making it 3-2 at the end of the second period.
In the break, Panthers fan Christine unlocked the club's activity game ‘Panthers Vault’, where she won £1,500 - and she kindly donated £500 to Adam’s family charity.
The third period began and Panthers’ Zaine McKenzie scored, making it 4-2. The 47th minute of the game saw a standing ovation for Adam as play stopped and players, staff and officials applauded for Adam Johnson..
Manchester’s Matt Murphy and Critchlow later equalised, ending the game 4-4.
The team definitely needed this game to help with their confidence back on the ice. The strength this team has shown to get back into training and preparing for a return to action has been remarkable. Once the Manchester Storm had left the ice at the end of the game, the players decided to stay behind for one last skate around to more applause from the fans. They formed one last circle, raising their sticks in the air for Johnson. Alternate captain Carl Neill took the mic to thank everyone for their remarkable support. The evening ended with the song Over the Rainbow as fans walked out together, leaving a beautiful tribute in their memory.
As a Nottingham Panthers fan myself, it has been wonderful seeing the fans come together not only to help each other but to also show their respect to Adam’s family. A light-up display was created with AJ47 on the side of the plexiglass, ready for the team as they stepped onto the ice. Paper love hearts were given out to the fans, created by a fan before the match had started. Young children had made bracelets with the number 47 on to give to other children at the game. A Nottingham Panthers flag was passed around the blocks of the game between fans. And the Nottingham Panthers had also arranged for special activities to help raise money for the charity to take place as well. They sold the AJ47 jersey, which can still be bought from their online shop, alongside a special one-off puck with Adam’s number and logo. They also sold my illustration as a print, which I illustrated for Adam Johnson after hearing the news. My print sold 500 copies, raising £2,000 for the charity at the memorial game. And over 4,300 jerseys have been sold - with more than 3,200 pucks also selling before and during the game itself.
The Nottingham Panthers encouraged fans to bring flowers to add to the memorial in Bolero Square. Books of condolence for Adam were also available to fans to write their own messages. The local mental health charity - Vita Health Group - were in the foyer at the game for anyone who needed a conversation, as the death of Adam has really affected a lot of people, especially those who were at the game in Sheffield.
The Nottingham Panthers have launched an official fundraiser, with permission of Adam’s family, to raise money - the Love for Hibbing and Hockey Memorial Fund. The purpose of the fund is to support local charitable activities in the Hibbing area (Adam's home town), as selected by the Johnson Family.
If you would like to donate to the GoFundMe page please go to the website
The Nottingham Panthers will resume their Elite League season against Belfast Giants on Sunday 26 November at the Motorpoint Arena (4pm face-off). To get tickets, go to the Arena’s website
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