Minnesota youth hockey camp creates Adam Johnson Memorial Scholarship to honor the late alum

memorial of hockey player
Flower tributes for Nottingham Panthers player Adam Johnson, who died last year from a skate cut to the neck, rest outside the Motorpoint Arena before a memorial ice hockey game between the Panthers and the Manchester Storm in Nottingham, England, Nov. 18, 2023.
AP Photo | Rui Vieira

A Minnesota youth hockey camp has announced the creation of the Adam Johnson Memorial Scholarship, honoring the 29-year-old player who died in October from a skate cut to the neck while playing in a game in England.

Johnson grew up participating in the Bulldog Hockey Camp in Duluth. The scholarship will pay for a youth player whose family otherwise would not have the means to take part in the camp.

Camp director and University of Minnesota-Duluth director of men’s hockey operations Christian Koelling said the idea came from Johnson’s family as a way to honor him.

“Adam was someone who was very important to me personally, along with the UMD hockey program and the Duluth community and Iron Range community,” Koelling told The Associated Press on Monday. “As a hockey player, he was such a unique talent, and as a person he was just so memorable. He was unique. He was kind of a quieter kid, more laidback but had just a great sense of humor and he was a great teammate and really someone that everyone enjoyed being around, someone you could count on. Just really made an impact on us from a very young age.”

Koelling, his wife, Jennie, and the memorial fund will pay the $500 enrollment fee for one of the weeklong camps this summer at UMD’s arena. In addition to going through the camps in his youth, Johnson worked at the camp while playing at the school from 2015-17.

“His dad played at UMD, so our coaching staff knew Adam from a very young age,” Koelling said. “(We got to watch) him grow up in Hibbing and come to our hockey camps and work with him there, and then to have him come and play for the Bulldogs for two years before moving on and having a nice pro career, which included achieving the lifelong goal of any northern Minnesotan hockey player to play in the NHL.”

Johnson made his NHL debut with the Pittsburgh Penguins in March 2019, the first of 13 games he played with them before returning to the American Hockey League and then shifting his career to Europe. Johnson spent time in Sweden and Germany before signing with the Nottingham Panthers of the United Kingdom’s Elite Ice Hockey League last year.

His tragic death helped reignite debate about the importance of cut-resistant gear, including neck and wrist guards, and spurred the continued evolution of equipment that can prevent similar situations in hockey. The International Ice Hockey Federation and USA Hockey have since implemented neck laceration protection mandates.

The NHL and the NHL Players’ Association have for several years been studying skate cut injuries and how to reduce and avoid them, and those discussion continue. Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly at the league’s annual pre-Stanley Cup Final news conference earlier this month said, “Obviously, the events of this year kind of opened everybody’s eyes and brought a much bigger focus on it.”