Adam Johnson's death: Family grapples with loss

Born into a Hibbing hockey family, Adam Johnson made a name for himself on the ice. The forward scored an overtime goal to send his University of Minnesota-Duluth hockey team to the 2017 Frozen Four; and later scored a goal against the Minnesota Wild, during a stint on the Pittsburgh Penguins.

"Adam was a really gentle, kind-hearted, soul," aunt Kari Johnson told FOX 9 on Wednesday. "Everybody needs to know he was more than just a hockey player. He meant the world to so many people."

More recently, the sport had taken Johnson overseas to the Nottingham Panthers of England’s Elite Ice Hockey League.  But his family says he was preparing to step away from the game and enter the next stage of his life when it was suddenly ended in a game last Saturday.

The 29-year-old passed away after a brutal collision on the ice with an opponent. The defender’s ice skate slashed his neck open; while here in Minnesota, his family watched it happen through a livestream.

"We knew right away, and being so far away, you’re just kind of helpless," Kari said. "There’s nothing you can do."

The family waited for hours until one of Adam’s teammates used his phone to call them. Adam had been rushed into surgery, but the wound was too extensive, and doctors were unable to save his life. Now the Johnsons are calling for a proper investigation into the collision and the other player involved.

"From my understanding, he’s very distraught," Kari said. "I’m sure he didn’t intend to kill Adam, but it happened."

Kari says the family is also starting a foundation in Adam’s name, to help Hibbing’s hockey youth.

The family would like to see neckguard protective equipment mandated across the sport; and already, in the U.K., Adam’s league has adopted that change in the wake of his death.