U.S.-born player vows not to play in Ukrainian Hockey League until Andrei Deniskin is banned for racist gesture

Defenseman Jalen Smereck of HC Donbass said he won't play another game in the Ukrainian Hockey League until Kremenchuk forward Andrei Deniskin is "removed from the league" for making a racist gesture to him on Sunday.

In the second period of their game, Deniskin shouted at Smereck, who is Black, and then pantomimed unpeeling a banana and eating it. He was ejected from the game, and the UHL announced that disciplinary proceedings would be opened against Deniskin.

"These situations are very tough and I'm a big believer in standing up for what is right. Therefore, I have been putting a lot of thought into what comes next for me in my career," Smereck posted on Instagram. "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 UHL until Andrei Deniskin is suspended and removed from the league."

Smereck, 24, is a Detroit native who is playing his first season overseas. He was formerly a member of the Arizona Coyotes organization.

Deniskin posted an apology on Instagram, saying it was "a gesture that someone can consider as an insult in race," that his emotions got the best of him, and that "I respect all people regardless of their race or nationality."

Luc Tardif, president of the International Ice Hockey Federation, said in a statement that the IIHF "condemns in the strongest possible terms" the actions of Deniskin.

"There is no place for such a blatantly racist and unsportsmanlike gesture in our sport and in society," the statement said. "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 behavior is sanctioned appropriately."