A little more than a fortnight after his stray skate caused the death of opponent Adam Johnson, Sheffield Steelers star Matt Petgrave received a standing ovation from his home fans.
More than 8,000 supporters rose to their feet in the 22nd minute of Sunday's home game against the Coventry Blaze. Petgrave wasn't in play for his side, but rather those in attendance were reacting to a picture of the player appearing on the big screen at the Utilita Arena in Sheffield.
The Canadian was part of the Steelers side that hosted Johnson and the Nottingham Panthers on October 28. It was during that game that Petgrave's outstretched left skate slashed Johnson's throat and led to the player dying later that evening.
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British ice hockey had a period of mourning after the incident and temporarily paused fixtures, with Sheffield shelving games against Fife, Manchester and Cardiff. And although Petgrave is still to make his return to the ice, he'll be boosted by the knowledge there are those rallying behind him.
The Steelers and their fans also observed a moment's silence before a minute of applause prior to Sunday's 2-1 win over the Blaze. It marked the first time the team has been back in action at the Utilita Arena since the Elite Ice Hockey League was rocked by tragedy.
However, others have been quick to call out the reaction of most of the Steelers support, with many suggesting Petgrave should face punishment for causing the injury that led to Johnson's death at 29 years old. That's despite the Canadian reportedly showing extreme remorse for the incident, while a Panthers statement called the situation a 'freak accident'.
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Kari Johnson – Adam's aunt who still lives in his native Minnesota – called Petgrave's actions that night 'reckless' but stressed she did not think he intended to kill her nephew. "I just want them to get it right," the 62-year-old told The Sun. "We are looking for justice for Adam."
Johnson's death is being investigated by South Yorkshire Police, which has said the case could take longer than usual due to its 'complex nature'. Senior coroner Tanyka Rawden also confirmed in early November that a full inquest into Johnson's death will be pushed back until January.
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