Minnesota Now with Cathy Wurzer

'Anyone who knew him was a friend to him': Remembering former UMD hockey player Adam Johnson

A hockey player skates on a rink
Minnesota Duluth hockey player Adam Johnson skates against Providence College during a NCAA Division I Men's Ice Hockey Northeast Regional Championship semifinal game on March 25, 2016 in Worcester, Mass.
Richard T Gagnon | Getty Images 2016

The Minnesota hockey community is mourning the loss of Adam Johnson, a former Hibbing High School and University of Minnesota Duluth hockey player.

He died after a “freak accident” when his neck was cut by a skate blade during a game in England. Johnson was playing for the Nottingham Panthers and played previously in the NHL for the Pittsburgh Penguins.

Johnson’s godfather and peewee hockey coach Rudy Krampotitch joined MPR News host Cathy Wurzer to remember him.

Use the audio player above to listen to the full conversation.

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Audio transcript

[MUSIC PLAYING] CATHY WURZER: Our lead story is the Minnesota hockey community mourning the loss of one of their own. Adam Johnson was a former Hibbing High School and University of Minnesota Duluth hockey player. He died after a freak accident when his neck was cut by a skate blade during a game in England. Johnson was playing for the Nottingham Panthers. He previously played in the NHL for the Pittsburgh Penguins.

His godfather and peewee hockey coach is Rudy Krampotich. Rudy is also a member of the Minnesota Youth Hockey Hall of Fame. He's on the line to talk about Adam Johnson.

Rudy, thank you so much for taking time. I know it's a very difficult time for you and your family. And we're very sorry for your loss.

RUDY KRAMPOTICH: Well, thank you very much. And if you want to talk to someone that wants to talk about Adam, you could just about talk to anybody. Because anybody that knew him as a person was right away a friend and companion. And so anybody that knew him was a friend. So I'm just so fortunate to be the one to be talking about him right now.

CATHY WURZER: Say, talk about Adam as a kid. I mean, obviously, he loved hockey. He was probably on ice since he was able to put on skates, right?

RUDY KRAMPOTICH: Heh, yeah, sure, at three or four years old, I'd say. He was on skates his whole life. And whenever he had free time away from school or whatever else he was supposed to be doing as part of his career or life, he was always practicing hockey. So what it does is it caused him to probably be, well, I'd say one of the best skaters and puck handling skilled person up on Iron Range. Anybody that watched him play hockey, he was as good as anybody could be, I would say.

CATHY WURZER: So he was a good stick handler, obviously, and obviously, an excellent skater.

RUDY KRAMPOTICH: Yeah, he was an excellent stick handler, and not only that, a good reader. I mean, he's the kind of a guy that could be seen coming-- like, say breaking moves for a pass or something like that, he could spot them, boom, just like that and give him the pass. Which, it's an instinct that-- I don't know if you're born with it or it's just because you spend so much time practicing. But yeah, he was excellent at that.

CATHY WURZER: It was fun that he helped the Bulldogs to two NCAA tournaments. His performances in those games were really fantastic.

RUDY KRAMPOTICH: Oh, yeah. And that second year there, in fact, the semi-final game, I think he scored the winning goal to get them into the finals for the National Championship, which they actually lost-- I think it was-- to Boston, or Boston College, or one of them Boston teams. Yeah, but just to make it there was fantastic. And he definitely did contribute his share. I wish he would have stayed another year. He left the Bulldogs early to go to the Pittsburgh Penguins.

CATHY WURZER: And I'm only imagining how proud you were to see a kid like Adam go from being on your peewee team to going to the NHL and playing for Pittsburgh.

RUDY KRAMPOTICH: Oh yeah, not only that, not just because he was on my peewee team, but me, and him, and his family were-- it's like a second family to me. I've been around them all my life. So they were like second family. So naturally, anything he did, I probably appreciated as much or more as anybody except his family.

CATHY WURZER: Say, tell me about Adam off the ice. What kind of a guy was he?

RUDY KRAMPOTICH: Well, like I say, he was the kind of guy, say, if you walked up to him and you started talking to him, he'd smile at you. And right away, you and him would be friends. I don't think I met anybody that didn't like the kid. Because he was so likable, like you were-- like I say, he's immediately your friend as soon as you start to talk to him.

And he was never selfish. He'd spend time with the youngsters. And if a mom wanted him to find a stick, or take a picture with your kid, or anything to do with a youngster, he was right there, right now. He was never selfish. He was always willing to help somebody else. He was just a great kid.

CATHY WURZER: Now, someone was talking about how-- you mentioned he was a very generous young man-- that he would buy steaks for people, take a-- pick up the dinner tab, and that kind of a thing.

RUDY KRAMPOTICH: Yeah, as I say, he was very generous. I mean, I could see-- I could see him doing that. Because just the way he acted around other families when they wanted him to do something with their kid, or sign an autograph, or take a picture with them, a lot of people wouldn't take the time to do that. But he always had time to do something for somebody else. He was just the greatest kid. Everybody liked him. Everybody loved him.

CATHY WURZER: Say, Rudy, because of your role in youth hockey in the state of Minnesota, and because of Adam's death, are you hearing more about maybe better safety precautions, such as neck guards for some of the players?

RUDY KRAMPOTICH: You know, it's funny you brought that up. Because I actually just seen that today on Facebook. I'm not really familiar with it. But it makes sense to me. I don't know if a lot of the older people would wear them because how they are. You get one thing in their way, and they don't like it.

But yeah, I'm sure it would help. It'd be something that'd be nice. It would be, for sure, for the youth, mandatory. It'd be great.

CATHY WURZER: Say, before you go-- because I know you're busy. And you're obviously in the car-- what's your favorite memory of Adam? Do you have one?

RUDY KRAMPOTICH: Oh boy, I don't really-- I kind of thought you were going to ask me that. And I just was starting to think what it would be. And there's so many good things.

I think my favorite part would be not just when he was real young, but when he'd come home for holidays. And I would actually-- I don't live up there anymore either. So when I would go home for holidays, and he would actually make it, and I'd be able to go to his grandma's or his dad's and be able to spend some time visiting with him. Them were my favorite moments, and there aren't enough of them.

CATHY WURZER: Yeah, life is short. Rudy, thank you so very much. I really appreciate this. Thank you. And again, my condolences to you.

RUDY KRAMPOTICH: Thanks a lot. Can I just add one thing?


RUDY KRAMPOTICH: If you wanted to know anything about Adam from the day he was born until now, his dad, Davey-- and he wasn't only his dad, he was his best friend. And he could tell you anything about the kid. I mean, as far as details, statistics, anything, he knows everything about the boy.

CATHY WURZER: And I can only imagine just how much his heart is broken. Rudy, thank you for your time.

RUDY KRAMPOTICH: You bet. Thank you.

CATHY WURZER: Thank you.

Rudy Krampotich has been with us. He's the godfather of Adam Johnson. Adam is the 29-year-old who died over the weekend while playing hockey in England.

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