This is not the first article I thought I would write for Belly Up; however, I cannot sit idly by and not speak out regarding this issue. As an Icemen fan and season ticket holder who was in attendance for this game, I have to speak out. First things first, I stand with Jordan Subban and the South Carolina Stingrays. Racism has no place in the world, let alone in the game of hockey. What happened last night was inexcusable. The Jacksonville Icemen’s initial statement regarding the matter was disgusting. Their second statement was better, but still not enough. As a society, we need to do better, we need to work harder, and we need to expect better across the board.

What We Know About the Incident

On January 22, 2022, amid a 0-0 tie in overtime, an inexcusable event happened at Vystar Veterans Memorial Arena in Jacksonville, FL. At the 23 second mark of the seven-minute overtime frame and after a hit on Icemen goaltender Justin Kapelmaster by South Carolina Stingrays Captain Andrew Cherniwchan, a scrum ensued. During the scrum, there was a scuffle between Jordan Subban and Jacob Panetta. As the officials were skating Panetta and Subban to their respective benches, Panetta made a gesture to Subban’s back. Subban reacted immediately to the gesture, turned around and a fight ensued.

I was not on the ice, I cannot confirm if something was said with the gesture. From the stands, all you could see was all hell breaking loose. Subban was enraged, the Stingrays bench was enraged, and now former Icemen defenseman Jacob Panetta was swarmed by Stingrays players. Once the fight was broken up, Panetta was escorted to the bench and went down the tunnel. Subban was escorted to the bench and went down his tunnel. Moments later, Subban reemerged and was back on the bench exchanging more words with the Icemen bench. In the stands, we awaited the announcement of the penalties. After several minutes, the public address announcer called the penalties. Panetta was given multiple game misconducts. One of those misconducts was for using a racial gesture.

It has been a long 19 hours since this incident occurred. It will continue to feel like a long time as we await an investigation and a hearing. A lot has been said already on social media, in sports media, and by fans, players, and teams about this incident. On one thing, almost everyone agrees: this type of event has no place in the game of hockey, or the world.

The Response – the ECHL, the Stingrays, and the Icemen

Overnight, everyone awaited the responses that would come. On Sunday morning, the ECHL, the South Carolina Stingrays, and the Jacksonville Icemen all issued statements or actions regarding the events of January 22.

The first response to this incident came from the ECHL announcing that Panetta has been suspended indefinitely pending a hearing under the Collective Bargaining Agreement.

The second response came from the South Carolina Stingrays.

Finally, several responses came from the Jacksonville Icemen. I am an Icemen fan, and neither response seems satisfactory.

The second statement from the Icemen came after a significant amount of backlash from not only their fans, but anyone with a pulse. It still seems to miss the mark. There is no direct apology to Jordan Subban. There is no show of unity with the South Carolina Stingrays. Yes, there is a all to be better as a community, but there is no unified front. A quick scroll through ECHL Twitter can show numerous other clubs openly admitting that they stand with Subban and the Stingrays. Yet, the Icemen, the team who had the offender on their roster, did neither of those things.

Hockey is for Everyone

This hashtag is one we see a lot in the hockey world. It is supposed to represent the unified front the hockey world wants to represent for anyone who loves and plays the game. It is time that we, as hockey fans, actually stand behind this phrase. Notably, we need to demand a harsher response from hockey brass when incidents of this nature occur.

Just one day before the incident at the Icemen game occurred, the AHL announced a 30-game suspension for a player who exhibited an almost identical gesture. In my opinion, 30 games are not enough. There is no room for this kind of behavior in the game of hockey. This is the longest suspension handed down for such an incident to date, but it came with conditional options. Krystof Hrabik has the option to apply for reinstatement after he has served only 21 of the 30 game suspension, and has his progress evaluated but the Player Inclusion Committee. I feel like it is time a new precedent is set for the future. It needs to be made very clear that any form of bigotry will not be tolerated.

So, What’s Next?

So what is the next step? What are we, the fans of hockey, supposed to do?

The best answer for this question is we need to demand more of the organizations at all levels of hockey. From the lowest of the minor leagues to the NHL, we need to keep pushing for more diversity and more inclusion. We need to hold executives’ feet to the fire. The only way for hockey culture to change is to actually step up and do something about it. Statements, at this rate, aren’t good enough anymore. If hockey is for everyone, it is time to demonstrate that. Over and over again, we have seen statements condemning these actions. After those statements, nothing changes. The time for demonstrative action has arrived.

I am not here to tell anyone how to take action. Everyone has their own version of what taking action means. Since sport is also a business, you can choose to demonstrate with your wallet. You can also choose to show support to organizations like the Hockey Diversity Alliance, the Black Girl Hockey Club, and many others that are out there. You can take your grievances directly to the organizations involved. Find what action works best for you, and do it. Do not sit by and do nothing. Doing nothing changes nothing.

Update

After this article was published, Jacob Panetta issued an apology via Instagram that can be viewed below.

My name is Beth Bolger, and I am an editor and writer for Belly Up Sports. For more hockey coverage, please head on over and follow Belly Up Hockey on Twitter. You can follow me on Twitter as well.

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