ECHL's Jacob Panetta suspended, released after being accused of making racist gesture in game

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Jacksonville Icemen defenseman Jacob Panetta (15) advances the puck in front of Orlando Solar Bears defenseman Braydon Barker (19) during an ECHL hockey game at Veterans Memorial Arena in Jacksonville, Fla., Wednesday, Dec. 1, 2021. [Gary Lloyd McCullough/For the Jacksonville Icemen]
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Jacksonville Icemen defenseman Jacob Panetta has been suspended indefinitely by the ECHL and released from the team after being accused of making a racist gesture toward the South Carolina Stingrays' Jordan Subban during Saturday night's game.

It's the second time in three days that a minor-league hockey player was suspended over a racial gesture during a game.

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 scuffle.

"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," Subban, the younger brother of New Jersey Devils defenseman P.K. Subban, wrote on Twitter on Saturday night after the game.

P.K. Subban also responded to the incident in a series of tweets.

WARNING: Language

"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 read a statement on Instagram saying his gesture wasn't racial.

"I said to him, “You’re only tough once the refs get involved,” and I did a tough guy bodybuilder-like gesture towards him," Panetta said. "My actions towards Jordan were not because of race or were not intended as a racial gesture."

He added: "I see now from Jordan’s reaction that he and others certainly viewed it as a racial gesture, and my actions have caused a great deal of anger and upset to Jordan, his family and countless others. ... However unintentional my actions were, I acknowledge the impact of my gesture and will commit to better understand the impact going forward."

Stingrays president Ron Concannon said the team is “disgusted and appalled” by the incident and stands in support of Subban and "other players who continue to deal with racism and discrimination. This behavior has to stop and is unacceptable.”

After initially saying that the team intended "to make comments and decisions" following the completion of the ECHL review, the Icemen said Sunday afternoon that they were releasing Panetta, effective immediately.

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.

Panetta was 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 with racial gestures or slurs have drawn lengthy suspensions from hockey leagues. 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 shutout with the Icemen.

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 call-up to the American Hockey League's Rochester Americans earlier this month.

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: Jacob Panetta suspended by ECHL, cut by team after racial gesture