Jacksonville Icemen defenseman Jacob Panetta suspended for racist gesture in ECHL hockey game

·5 min read
Icemen defenseman Jacob Panetta (15) advances the puck during an Oct. 1 game against the Orlando Solar Bears.
Icemen defenseman Jacob Panetta (15) advances the puck during an Oct. 1 game against the Orlando Solar Bears.

Jacksonville Icemen defenseman Jacob Panetta was suspended indefinitely by the league and released by the club Sunday, accused of making a racist gesture toward the South Carolina Stingrays' Jordan Subban during Saturday night's ECHL hockey game at VyStar Veterans Memorial Arena.

Panetta, a 26-year-old from Belleville, Ontario, is accused of making a monkey gesture at Subban, who is Black, during a fight 23 seconds into overtime. Video shows Panetta appearing to raise his arms toward his side while looking at Subban in the aftermath of the initial scuffle.

The ECHL office announced Sunday just before noon that Panetta is under indefinite suspension, pending a hearing under the league's collective bargaining agreement. The Icemen announced his release Sunday afternoon.

Icemen chief executive officer Andy Kaufmann said in a second statement Sunday that "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."

Subban, the younger brother of New Jersey Devils defenseman, former Norris Trophy winner and three-time NHL All-Star P.K. Subban, accused Panetta of making a monkey gesture following Saturday night's game, posting on Twitter at 10:28 p.m.

"More like @JPanetta12 [Panetta] was too much of a coward to fight me and 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," he wrote on Twitter.

The elder Subban also responded to the incident in a series of Tweets.

"They don’t call the east coast league [ECHL] 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 but things are changing. now not just the hockey world knows your true colours… your hometown of Belleville knows, your family, and friends know you’re a fraud ..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. One thing that I love about this is Jordan’s teammates standing in there and showing support. Love that."

Panetta's Twitter account has subsequently been deleted.

In a statement to social media Sunday, the Icemen initially said, "The Jacksonville Icemen are cooperating with the League review of the incident that occurred in last night's game against South Carolina. As an organization, our fans, partners and sponsors know our core values and we intend to make comments and decisions after completion of league review."

Requests for comment from the office of ECHL Commissioner Ryan Crelin have not yet been returned as of early Sunday afternoon, apart from the statement announcing Panetta's suspension.

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However, Stingrays team president Rob Concannon responded to the incident Sunday morning in a statement: "The South Carolina Stingrays are disgusted and appalled by last night’s incident involving Jordan Subban. 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."

Officials assessed 27 minutes in penalties, including a double game misconduct, to Panetta during the incident, which also included a fighting major and double game misconduct against Nico Blachman of the Stingrays.

The ECHL game report indicates that the officiating crew of referee Jacob Rekucki and linesmen Shane Gustafson and Brady Fagan assessed Panetta's game misconduct penalties for continuing an altercation and for "inciting," under ECHL Rule 75.5. The latter rule applies to "obscene gestures on the ice or anywhere in the rink before, during or after the game." It can also apply to certain situations not linked to Panetta's case, such as striking or injuring opposing team personnel other than players.

Under ECHL Rule 28, players penalized for inciting are subject to additional punishments from the league office.

Panetta is in his second season with the Icemen. He played six games with the club last year and has become a regular in Jacksonville's 2021-22 campaign, recording five goals and 12 assists in 31 games.

Incidents involving racial gestures or slurs have drawn lengthy suspensions from hockey leagues in recent times. As recently as Friday, the American Hockey League suspended San Jose Barracuda forward Krystof Hrabik 30 games for directing a monkey gesture toward Boko Imama of the Tucson Roadrunners.

The longest suspension in Icemen history was 16 games, handed down to Emerson Clark for physical abuse of an official during a January 2020 game against the Fort Wayne Komets. The club traded Clark to Toledo soon afterward.

The Icemen, who lead the ECHL South Division and served as hosts of the nationally-televised ECHL All-Star Classic only five days earlier, eventually won the game 1-0 on an overtime goal by newly-signed forward Brendan Harris on his team debut. Goaltender Justin Kapelmaster recorded his first Icemen shutout.

The Icemen currently have no Black players on their active roster, although goaltender Charles Williams guarded the net for much of the last two seasons with the club before his promotion to the American Hockey League's Rochester Americans earlier this month. Williams ranked third in the ECHL in goals-against average at the time. Defenseman Dajon Mingo, now with the Cincinnati Cyclones, scored 23 goals in 171 games for the Icemen from 2017 to 2020 and was the longest-tenured Icemen player when he left the club.

Clayton Freeman covers high school sports and more for the Florida Times-Union. Follow him on Twitter at @CFreemanJAX.

This article originally appeared on Florida Times-Union: Jacksonville Icemen Jacob Panetta suspended for racist 'monkey' gesture