A Black American hockey player was subjected to a racist act in the Ukrainian Hockey League on Sunday.
HC Kremenchuk forward Andrei Deniskin mimed the peeling and eating of a banana in the direction of Jalen Smereck, a former Arizona Coyotes prospect who plays for HC Donbass.
Deniskin was ejected from the game and faces further discipline from the league, pending a league investigation. Deniskin apologized for his actions via social media, but the post has apparently since been deleted. According to ESPN, Deniskin wrote on Instagram that his actions were “a gesture that someone can consider as an insult in race.”
HC Donbass said the organization was “outraged” by Deniskin’s behavior, adding “racism has no place in sports.”
Former NHL player JT Brown, who is Black and now an analyst for the Seattle Kraken, wrote a message of support to Smereck on Twitter.
“Respect to (Jalen Smereck). The sport is better because of you,” Brown wrote. “I’ve got your back, and I know a lot of other hockey fans do too.”
Replied Smereck: “I appreciate the support thank you so much.”
Smereck played 17 games for the Tuscon Roadrunners, Arizona’s AHL affiliate, in 2020-21. He signed a three-year entry-level deal with the Coyotes in 2018. That year, he told the Arizona Republic about the teasing that followed his youth because he played hockey.
“But I stuck with it my whole life,” he said. “Just me playing hockey and missing those other sports for hockey was kind of weird to everyone. I kind of got teased, but I said, ‘Hey, at the end of the day this is gonna take me somewhere.’”