The Ukrainian Hockey League has suspended Andrei Deniskin for 13 games for a racial gesture directed toward an opposing player.

Original reports had Deniskin with the option of missing an additional 10 games or paying a fine of approximately $1,880 USD.  Deniskin has been assessed both the additional 10 games and the fine, as confirmed by TSN’s Gord Miller.

Deniskin’s offensive gesture came during a stoppage in play during a game between HC Donbass and HC Kremenchik.  He yelled across the ice to Donbass defenseman Jalen Smereck, then mimed peeling a banana and eating it.   Deniskin was ejected from the game.


His suspension and fine are the maximum permitted by the league, whose disciplinary code – under Article 48, Section 1 – calls for a mandatory three game suspension, with additional penalty from three to ten matches for “the use of player expressions, gestures related to racial discrimination.”  In this case, they gave him the full ten, resulting in a 13-game ban.

Deniskin posted an apology on social media, admitting that the gesture was something “that someone can consider as an insult in race,” claiming that his emotions got the best of him. “I respect all people regardless of their race or nationality,” he added.   The post was later deleted.

Ukrainian Hockey League general manager Eugene Kolychev provided a statement on the incident on behalf of the league.

“The Ukrainian Hockey League and I stand with Jalen Smereck and thank all of the fans and media who have offered their support to him. The [UHL] believes that there is no place for racism in the world in which we live, let [alone] in the hockey community.”

It’s quite a jump to go from ‘no place in the hockey community’ to having him return after a three-game ban and a bit lighter in the bank account.

Smereck, a 24-year-old Detroit native, has taken an indefinite leave from the league.

“These situations are very tough and I am a big believer in standing up for what is right!” Smereck posted on Instagram. “Therefore I have been putting a lot of thought into what comes next for me in my career but as of right now I have decided that I will be taking a personal leave of absence from HC Donbass and I will not play another game in the [Ukrainian Hockey League] until Andrei Deniskin is suspended and removed from the league. Thank you.”

His club, HC Donbass, also weighed in.

“Donbass Hockey club strongly denies all forms of discrimination and is outraged by the behavior of Andrei Deniskin. Racism has no place on sports grounds or outside of them.”

The IIHF condemned Denyskin’s actions, with president Luc Tardif releasing the following statement:

“There is no place for such a blatantly racist and unsportsmanlike gesture in our sport and in society. This a direct assault on the ideals and values of our game, and we will ensure that all necessary ethics violation investigations occur to ensure that this behaviour is sanctioned appropriately.”

Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman challenged the IIHF to back its condemnation of Deniskin’s abhorrent behavior by banning the player or penalizing the Ukrainian Hockey Federation. Certainly, the organization may be able to be held accountable for the actions of its players, along with its response to those actions.  The IIHF could also choose to prevent Deniskin from competing internationally.

At this time, the IIHF has not taken any further action.

Team Ukraine’s next IIHF tournament appearance will be the Men’s U20 World Championship in December, followed by the Men’s U18 and Men’s World Championship Division I Group B – both in May 2022.