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Jalen Smereck takes leave of absence, calls for opponent’s removal after racist gesture

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CALGARY, AB - MARCH 31: Pucks fill the net during warmup before the Calgary Flames and Edmonton Oilers game on Saturday, March 31, 2018 at the Scotiabank Saddledome in Calgary, AB. The Flames won the game 3-2. (Photo by Brett Holmes/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)

Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

[UPDATE: The UHL has suspended Deniskin a minimum of three games with a maximum of 13.]

Jalen Smereck has announced he is taking a personal leave of absence from HC Donbass of the Ukrainian Hockey League after an opponent directed a racist gesture towards him during a Sunday game.

“These situations are very tough and I am a big believer in standing up for what is right!,” Smereck posted on Instagram Tuesday. “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 Andrey Deniskin is suspended and removed from the league. Thank you.”

During Sunday’s game, Deniskin, a forward for HC Kremenchuk, pantomimed peeling a banana and eating it after shouting at Smereck, a 24-year-old Black Detroit native. Deniskin was ejected from the game and his actions were condemned by his own team, Donbass, the UHL, the International Ice Hockey Federation, and many others around the hockey world.

Smereck was further backed by his team’s head coach, Pavel Mikulchik. “We are convinced that racism has no place anywhere,” he said in a statement. “We ask the disciplinary committee of the Federation of Ukraine and the International Federation to consider this case and punish Andrey Deniskin. We are counting on the maximum disqualification at all levels of hockey: both in Ukraine and in other championships. I think it will be right.”

Calling for removal

Smereck spoke to Ken Campbell of Hockey Unfiltered and said he has faced racial taunts in the past but this was “brand new” to him and was “by far the worst.” Deniskin waited outside the Donbass dressing room to apologize but Smereck decided against coming out to meet him.

“There’s no chance in hell I was going out there,” Smereck said. “There’s just no apology for that.”

Not only does Smereck believe the UHL should suspend Deniskin for the season, he says that the Ukrainian National Team should also punish him for the remainder of his career.

“I definitely think he should be done for the year,” Smereck told Hockey Unfiltered. “For me, I would think his career is pretty much over…(he should be) suspended for this year (from the league) and get a suspension for the rest of his career from Team Ukraine. There’s no way to apologize for that. And even the apology he gave was really bad.”

Deniskin took to Instagram and posted an apology that said his actions were “a gesture that someone can consider as an insult in race” and “being in negative emotions, showed a gesture that someone can consider as an insult in race. I respect all people regardless of their race or nationality. Emotions in hockey, unfortunately, are different.” The post has since been deleted.


Sean Leahy is a writer for Pro Hockey Talk on NBC Sports. Drop him a line at or follow him on Twitter @Sean_Leahy.