HC Donbass, the Ukrainian team that Jalen Smereck plays for, is urging the Ice Hockey Federation of Ukraine to take a stricter approach in the handling of Andrei Denyskin’s suspension, writing on Twitter that they “demand a reconsideration of the decision.”
Denyskin was suspended for three games, a mandatory suspension for receiving a match penalty, as well as a 10-game suspension — the maximum allowable under the Federation’s rules — for when a player uses gestures or expressions “related to racial discrimination.”
An initial statement from Eugene Kolychev, the general manager of the Ukraine Hockey League, indicated Denyskin had been banned for “3 + 10 games (or a fine of ₴50 000),” suggesting Denyskin could pay what amounted to $2,386.85 CAD to negate the 10-game suspension.
Smereck did not immediately issue a public response to the ruling. When speaking with Greg Wyshynski of ESPN, though, he conveyed his shock over the outcome.
“I’m not even looking at this as a suspension. This can’t be taken seriously,” Smereck told Wyshynski. “You get more games for a cross-check or a stupid hit … for hockey plays. And this is completely un-hockey-like. It’s just a bad thing all around.”
News of Denyskin’s punishment comes one day after Smereck posted on Instagram saying he would “not play another game in the [Ukrainian Hockey League] until Andrey Denyskin is suspended and removed from the league.”
The incident occurred in the second period of Sunday’s game between Donbass and Denyskin’s club, HC Kremenchuk. During a stoppage in play, Denyskin shouted at Smereck, who is Black, and then mimed unpeeling a banana and eating it. He was ejected from the game for doing so.
Denyskin later addressed what happened on Instagram, saying it was “a gesture that someone can consider as an insult in race” that he made after his emotions got the best of him. Denyskin went on to claim he respects “all people regardless of race or nationality.” Denyskin has since deleted the post.
Backlash to the suspension, which was widely chastised for being too lenient, came quick.
“This is a complete embarrassment,” Akim Aliu, the chair of the Hockey Diversity Alliance, wrote on Twitter. “How are we as POC ever supposed to trust the system when at every turn it fails to protect us. On and OFF the ice.”
PHF star Saroya Tinker succinctly echoed Aliu’s frustration, saying “do better,” as did another member of the Hockey Diversity, Anthony Duclair.
“If you don’t see a problem here, you’re a part of it,” Duclair tweeted. “This is embarrassing. Basically we’re telling kids if you make a racist gesture you’ll be back playing in a couple weeks… it’s 2021. Time to add a ban rule???”
Frustration over the decision permeated Canadian NHL locker rooms, too, further highlighting the widespread disdain for not only Denyskin’s act, but the punishment being insufficient.
When asked about the situation on Wednesday, Montreal Canadiens head coach Dominique Ducharme called the racist gestures “unacceptable” and made clear he thought the suspension should have been “longer for sure. A lot longer.”
Canadiens defenceman Ben Chiarot denounced the act as “disgusting” and something that had “no place in hockey or society,” while lamenting the leniency of the suspension, saying “three games or a little fine doesn’t really stick in anyone’s mind as sort of a harsh punishment.”
Further disciplinary action can still be taken by the IIHF, which publicly condemned Denyskin’s racist gesture on Monday, calling his actions “a direct assault on the ideals and values of our game” while committing to investigate the incident further. It remains unclear at this time what the nature of that punishment might be.
“There is no place for such a blatantly racist and unsportsmanlike gesture in our sport and in society,” Luc Tardif, president of the IIHF, said in a statement earlier this week. “We will ensure that all necessary ethics violation investigations occur to ensure that this behaviour is sanctioned appropriately.”