Ice hockey fans have paid tribute to Nottingham Panthers player Adam Johnson, who died after sustaining a serious injury during a match watched by thousands.
Many supporters were in tears as they signed books of condolence on the ice at Nottingham’s Motorpoint Arena on Saturday evening.
Fans walked past a photo of Johnson and a shirt displaying his name and team number, 47, as they came onto the ice – which had been carpeted – to pay their respects to the American.
Adrian Ingham, who was watching a webcast of the match in which Johnson was injured, said he had found it difficult to sleep for days after the incident “because you closed your eyes and saw the image of everything that was going on”.
Mr Ingham told the PA news agency: “I’ve been coming to ice hockey for 40 years and it’s the most horrific thing I’ve ever seen.”
He added that introducing neck guards for players would be the “obvious thing” to do to reduce injuries, but added it was important not to “negate the competitiveness” of ice hockey.
Fellow ice hockey fan Laura said she had been finding it hard to eat since the incident and had to take time off work because of panic attacks.
She added: “I’m feeling much better now and today is to try and say goodbye and get some closure.”
Hundreds of floral tributes to Johnson have also been left outside the Motorpoint Arena in Bolero Square.
Nottingham Panthers said the team’s players and staff would spend Saturday afternoon privately reflecting on their memories of Johnson while signing the books of condolence.
The club has also announced the creation of an official fundraising page to raise money for the Love for Hibbing and Hockey Memorial Fund – established in Johnson’s memory.
The American player’s aunt, Kari Johnson, said the vigil in Nottingham meant a lot to the family.
She told Sky News: “He liked it there (Nottingham), he thought the fans were great, he was meeting some of them and really enjoying it.”
“It means a lot to us to see how much everybody thought of our boy.”
Johnson’s funeral will take place on Sunday in the US, according to an obituary posted on the website of Dougherty Funeral Home in Hibbing, Minnesota.
The obituary stated: “Adam had a quiet confidence about him and was never boastful.
“He was never looking to be the centre of attention, but rather he preferred to listen to others and do what he could to make them feel important.”
The 29-year-old American was playing for the Panthers against Sheffield Steelers on October 28 when he was hit in the throat by an opponent’s skate, causing a fatal injury.
About 8,000 fans watched in horror as attempts were made to save Johnson’s life as he lay on the ice at Sheffield’s Utilita Arena, shielded by fellow players.
On Friday, Sheffield’s senior coroner Tanyka Rawden opened and adjourned an inquest into Johnson’s death at Sheffield’s Medico-Legal Centre.
Ms Rawden concluded the four minute-long hearing by saying she wanted to “take this opportunity to offer to his family, his friends and all those who knew him, my sincere condolences at this difficult time”.
None of Johnson’s family were in court for the brief hearing.
The Elite Ice Hockey League has said it will not make the use of neck guards mandatory, but “strongly encourages” players and officials to wear them.
The English Ice Hockey Association has since said neck guards will become mandatory from 2024, but the Elite League is not under the governing body’s control.
South Yorkshire Police has confirmed it is investigating the incident, but officers have said the inquiry “will take some time”.
Officers have carried out inquiries at the arena, studied footage of the collision and spoken to experts, aided by Sheffield City Council’s health and safety team.