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Ukrainian league suspends Andrei Deniskin for racist gesture

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COLUMBUS, OH - MARCH 9: A general view of pucks on the ice before a game between the Columbus Blue Jackets and the Pittsburgh Penguins on March 9, 2019 at Nationwide Arena in Columbus, Ohio. (Photo by Jamie Sabau/NHLI via Getty Images) *** Local Caption ***

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The Ukrainian Hockey League has suspended Andrei Deniskin 13 games for making a racist gesture towards an opponent during a Sunday game.

Deniskin, a forward for HC Kremenchuk, was given an automatic three-game ban for the match penalty. According to the Ukrainian Ice Hockey Federation, the extra 10 games is the maximum allowable under the league’s Code of Conduct. An earlier report said Deniskin could pay the equivalent of $1,870 as a fine instead of sitting out the additional 10 games. That is not the case.

The punishment was determined by the Disciplinary Committee of the Ice Hockey Federation of Ukraine.

During Sunday’s UHL game against HC Donbass, Deniskin pantomimed peeling a banana and eating it after shouting at Donbass defenseman Jalen 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.

“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,” Tweeted Eugene Kolychev, general manager of the UHL. “The @uhlua believes that there is no place for racism in the world in which we live, let along in the hockey community. The matter was given to the @IIHFHockey of Ukraine’s Disciplinary Committee by the #UHL in accordance with a long-standing agreement between the Federation and the Ukrainian Hockey League.”

Smereck was not impressed with the ban, as he told ESPN’s Greg Wyshynski. “I’m not even looking at this as a suspension,” he said. “This can’t be taken seriously. 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.”

The IIHF, which condemned the racist gesture earlier this week, is still able to hand out its own punishment, which could affect Deniskin’s standing with the Ukrainian National Team.

“The IIHF condemns in the strongest possible terms the actions of Andri Denyskin,” said newly-elected IIHF president Luc Tardif in a statement on Monday. “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.”

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.” His account has since been deleted.

Smereck announced on Tuesday via Instagram that he was taking a leave of absence from Donbass and would not play the UHL against until Deniskin was removed from the league. He’s not sure what his next move is and will take a few days before making a decision on his future.

“I’m trying to figure out what the correct move would be,” he said. “I’m just going to take a few days and think it over. Once you leave Europe, it’s hard to come back. Once you leave the States, it’s hard to get back. It’s a tough situation. I’m going to take as much time as I can to think it over, and make the best move that I can.”


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