Now that the Ukrainian Hockey League has announced a stunningly soft maximum 13-game suspension to Andrei Denyskin for his horrendous gesture to Jalen Smereck, the burden falls on the International Ice Hockey Federation to bring the hammer.
There are three things that must be done here.
First, the IIHF has to send a message that individual federations will face consequences if they cannot adequately police these incidents. Yes, the player needs a harsh ban, but if the country itself is unwilling to do so, shouldn’t punishments include hurdles to Olympic/World Championship qualifying and/or withholding funding the UHL would normally get from the IIHF?
Those would be major consequences. Sometimes, sadly, you have to hit people to the pocketbook to make them feel remorse.
Second, the IIHF has to make sure Smereck is being paid while he’s taking a completely understandable leave of absence. This incident is not in any way his fault, and he should not lose a cent while dealing with his emotions. I’d argue that Smereck should be paid every cent he was to earn this season, even if he doesn’t play another second in Ukraine.
Third, it is incumbent on the IIHF — and really, the entire hockey community — to ensure Smereck is found another opportunity to resume his career. He’s 24, has dedicated himself to the sport, and should be rewarded for that. If he decides he does not want to stay in his current situation, surely there is another team in another country that can use his talents.
It sounds like this effort is already underway. Smereck played for the AHL’s Tucson Roadrunners last season, and there is word some American League teams are considering it.
One of the tweets that stuck with me through this is from an account named @RoseColoredFact, who said she didn’t like Smereck’s name associated with “what was done to him instead of who he is.” Last February, he auctioned a game-worn jersey, to benefit Detroit Ice Dreams, an organization dedicated to bringing hockey to Black youth in his hometown Detroit.
I didn’t know that until I saw the tweet, and I make sure to remind myself of that whenever I see something else about this awful situation. It illustrates Smereck’s dedication to hockey, now the sport must show its dedication to him.