DULUTH – Since former Minnesota Duluth star Adam Johnson's death on the ice Saturday, men's hockey coach Scott Sandelin has watched Johnson's game-winning goal against Boston University over and over.
Six years ago, the forward took a midzone shot to the corner in overtime, helping the Bulldogs advance from the West Regional final to the NCAA Frozen Four.
"I've watched that goal probably 40 times already," Sandelin said Monday morning, publicly addressing Johnson's sudden death for the first time during a news conference at Amsoil Arena. "I haven't seen it for a long time. I just keep watching it. Just a little move he made — it brings back great memories."
Denver ended up edging UMD 3-2 in the NCAA final that year — and Johnson left the program at the end of the season and signed with the Pittsburgh Penguins. He had two years of college eligibility remaining — and a coach itching for more time with the fellow Iron Range native with that signature Iron Range sense of humor.
"He was a pleasure to coach, very talented, and he definitely made a big impact in his two years here," he said.
Johnson, playing for the Nottingham Panthers, was carrying the puck into the offensive zone this weekend in England when he took a skate blade to the neck during a game against Sheffield Steelers. He dropped twice before he was helped off the ice by a teammate, his jersey and the ice both bloodied.
The Elite Ice Hockey League game was called off, and the arena cleared after the incident, described by team officials as a "freak accident." Numerous media outlets have identified defenseman Matt Petgrave as the player who hit him.
On Monday, the English Ice Hockey Association made wearing neck guards mandatory starting Dec. 31. The league is strongly encouraging the use of neck guards for those who already have them while teams order them.
The video has had wide circulation on social media, where the moment of contact has been analyzed closely by some users. South Yorkshire Police said in a statement that its investigation is ongoing and asked that the public "avoid speculation regarding the incident."
The Bulldogs will have a moment of silence for Johnson, 29, before Saturday's game against the Gophers at Amsoil Arena.
In Hibbing, where Johnson played four years of varsity hockey, was a Mr. Hockey finalist and lettered six times as a tennis player, the community has already responded with a meal train for the family and donations of more than $17,000.
Sandelin said the UMD coaching staff found out that Johnson had died before the puck dropped on the second game of a series against Cornell in Ithaca, N.Y., on Saturday. He was shaken but tried to put it aside during the game.
"It was harder after the game," he said.
The Bulldogs were swept by the Big Red.
Johnson, described by Sandelin as one of the best players to come out of Hibbing, came to UMD with several ties to the program. His father, Davey Johnson, played four years and was team captain in 1980-81, and his uncle Gary DeGrio played for UMD from 1978 to 1982.
Sandelin, too, is from Hibbing. He noticed Johnson at the university's summer hockey camp, where the player picked up a few MVP trophies. He was a natural for UMD's program: a northern Minnesota kid with Bulldog roots. Sandelin remembers talking to Johnson after a USHL game in Sioux City, Iowa.
"I remember him with about 147 pounds," he said. "I looked at him after a game and said, 'We've got to put some weight on you.' "
The Bulldogs athletic department has seen a few tragedies involving athletes in recent years. Popular and outspoken player Andrew Carroll died by suicide at O'Hare Airport in Chicago in 2018. Mandy Matula, a softball player who graduated in 2011, was killed in 2013 in Eden Prairie.