The ECHL has indefinitely suspended Jacksonville Icemen defenseman Jacob Panetta, pending a hearing for what South Carolina Stingrays defenseman Jordan Subban said was a racist taunt Saturday night.
The Icemen later announced that they are releasing Panetta.
"To be clear, our core values as an ownership group include one love and zero tolerance for racism or any other forms of hate against any group whatsoever. The platform that is the Jacksonville Icemen is one that is more than just about hockey to us as a group. It is about using this platform to spread not only our love for hockey but our love for the community and for each other," team CEO Andy Kaufmann said in a statement.
"Though the investigation and review is ongoing at the league level, the Jacksonville Icemen will be releasing the player involved effective immediately and will continue our mission of sharing our love of community and hockey. On behalf of the entire Icemen organization, we apologize to any one who was offended and look forward to beginning the process of healing together as one. Thank you."
The announcement came hours after the team released an initial statement saying it was cooperating with the ECHL's review of the incident.
Stingrays team president Rob Concannon said in a statement that his organization was "appalled by the incident."
"Our organization stands in support of our friend and teammate, Jordan, as well as all other players who continue to deal with racism and discrimination. This behavior is unacceptable and has to stop," he said.
The game was in overtime when South Carolina's Andrew Cherniwchan collided with Jacksonville goalie Justin Kapelmaster, sparking a skirmish between the teams. According to Subban, he tried to engage Panetta in a fight. Panetta responded by allegedly taunting Subban, who is Black.
"As soon as I began to turn my back, he started making monkey gestures at me, so I punched him in the face multiple times and he turtled like the coward he is," Subban tweeted.
The two fought while surrounded by players from both teams. They received major penalties and misconduct penalties that sent them to their locker rooms. Subban's teammate Nico Blachman left the Stingrays bench to punch Panetta and was also given a game misconduct.
Panetta posted a video on Twitter on Sunday, with a tweet that said "racism has no place in this world and no place in the game we love." Panetta said he told Subban that, "You're only tough when the refs get involved," and then "did a tough-guy bodybuilder-like gesture toward him" that Panetta said he has made to other players in other games.
"My actions toward Jordan were not because of race, and were not intended as a racial gesture. I did not contemplate at the time that it would be received as a racial gesture, and I attempted to convey this to Jordan when we were sent to the dressing room during the game," he said.
"I see now from Jordan's reaction that he and others certainly viewed it as a racial gesture, and that my actions have caused a great deal of anger ... I want to express to everyone, especially Jordan, that my actions were not racially motivated at all, and I sincerely apologize for the pain and suffering and anger that my actions have caused him, his family and everyone who has been hurt by this,'' Panetta added.
"They don't call the East Coast League the 'jungle' because my brother and the other black players are the monkeys! Hey Jacob Panetta, you shouldn't be so quick delete your Twitter or your Instagram account. You will probably be able to play again - that's what history says," P.K. Subban tweeted to his 1 million followers.
"But things are changing now. Not just the hockey world knows your true colors, your hometown of Belleville knows, your family, and friends know you're a fraud," wrote P.K. Subban. "With everything that has gone on in the past couple years in the world, I'll say with all due respect to everyone who has an opinion, this isn't a mistake. We all know what's OK and what's not. Even your own teammates wanted to see you get your clock cleaned. This happens a lot and it never gets exposed in the lower leagues."
The incident occurred one day after the American Hockey League suspended San Jose Barracuda forward Krystof Hrabik for 30 games after he made a racist gesture toward Boko Imama of the Tucson Roadrunners in a Jan. 12 game. Hrabik, 22, imitated the movements of a monkey in a taunt that targeted Imama, who is Black.
Hrabik will have the option to take part in training with the NHL's Player Inclusion Committee, for which P.K. Subban is listed as a co-chair, to reduce his suspension. He can apply to the AHL for reinstatement after missing 21 games, and a decision will be "based on an evaluation of his progress in the necessary education and training" with the Player Inclusion Committee.
Both incidents continue a trend of racist taunts in professional hockey. In 2021, Andrei Deniskin of the Ukrainian Hockey League pantomimed peeling and eating a banana toward Jalen Smereck, who is Black. Deniskin was suspended 13 games.
Smereck reacted to the Subban incident on Instagram, writing: "It's the first month of 2022 and there has already been two racial gestures in the second and third highest leagues in North America. Just think about how many are happening at the youth level to young kids that we don't see or ever know about, because the game isn't being recorded."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.