The Ontario Minor Hockey Association has launched an investigation into an alleged racial comment made against a Peterborough-area hockey player during a game earlier this week.
Zach Sukumaran, 17, says he got into a tussle on a face-off with a player from the visiting Woodville Hurricanes during the third period of a midget-rep game on Tuesday night at the Cavan Monaghan Community Centre in Millbrook
Zach, captain of the Stars, had already scored twice in the contest.
“He played the body on me a little bit — I didn’t like that so I gave him a little shove, ” Zach said. “And then he just started yapping at me. We were chirping back and forth.”
That’s when Zach says the opposing player allegedly yelled: “Go back to where you came from, you immigrant!”
Out of anger, Zach says he went after the player.
“In the moment I just kind of lost thought of everything,” said Zach. “And then he skated away. I was just really mad and went to the refs. I was mad that they didn’t do anything. So they kicked me out of the game.
“I punched the (change room) door and I broke my hand,” he added.
Zach’s teammate Rylan Lockhart says he was also on the ice when he heard the alleged racial comment.
“Chirping is part of the game,” said Rylan. “But you never bring a race or a person’s past into it. It’s just not a part of the game.”
The incident was reported to the Ontario Minor Hockey Association. In a statement to Global News Peterborough on Thursday, executive director Ian Taylor said officials are investigating.
“This serious issue is being treated as a major infraction of the Ontario Minor Hockey Association code of conduct and an investigation is underway, which will include all involved,” he said.
“There is no need for a formal complaint to be submitted due to the nature of this situation regarding a verbal exchange behind the play and we plan for a swift, appropriate resolution.”
Zach, a lifelong hockey fan and player, said it’s not the first time he has dealt with racial slurs on the ice. His former coach Bradley Winsor recalls an incident when Zach was 13 years old.
“He was emotional and he was upset,” Winsor said. “The first thing you think is he has been hurt. And then other kids told us he had been called the ‘N’ word. It was just upsetting seeing a kid go through that.”
Zach’s father Sanj — a longtime hockey coach — took to Facebook demanding that on-ice action is needed to halt all racial attacks. He said previously being passive, quiet and accepting “has done nothing to see change.”
“If you swung a stick at someone’s head there is immediate consequence on the ice to your team,” he told Global News Peterborough. “But when it comes to hate speech and racism there is no immediate consequence.”
Zach, whose family recently moved to Millbrook, says he and his five brothers were all multi-sport athletes growing up in Peterborough. However he says he’s endured the most discrimination in hockey.
“It kind of upsets me honestly that I’m not equal almost as everyone else that’s on the ice just because of my skin colour,” he said. “But when I’m on the ice I don’t feel brown, or any different skin colour. I just feel like I’m playing the game I love.”
Global News Peterborough reached out to the Woodville Minor Hockey Association for comment but have not received a response.