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Nichushkin cleared to practice with Avalanche after getting care from the player assistance program

DENVER (AP) — Valeri Nichushkin resumed practicing with the Colorado Avalanche on Monday after receiving care from the player assistance program .
FILE - Colorado Avalanche right wing Valeri Nichushkin celebrates after scoring the winning goal against the Boston Bruins in a shootout of an NHL hockey game Monday, Jan. 8, 2024, in Denver. Nichushkin has been cleared to resume practicing with the Colorado Avalanche after receiving care from the player assistance program. The NHL and NHL Players' Association announced Monday, Feb. 26, 2024, that Nichushkin has entered the follow-up care phase.(AP Photo/David Zalubowski, File)

DENVER (AP) — Valeri Nichushkin resumed practicing with the Colorado Avalanche on Monday after receiving care from the player assistance program.

The NHL and NHL Players’ Association announced that Nichushkin entered the follow-up care phase after being away from the team since in mid-January. Colorado coach Jared Bednar said after Monday's practice that Nichushkin's return to game action remains “to be determined.” He won't accompany the team on an upcoming two-game trip.

The 28-year-old Russian became the second Colorado player to take part in the joint league-union program this season after defenseman Samuel Girard, who resumed playing roughly five weeks after entering it. Washington’s Evgeny Kuznetsov and Columbus’ Patrik Laine remain in the program.

Nichushkin darted around the ice Monday wearing a white Avalanche sweater, going through drills and unleashing shots on net. Colorado is 26-11-3 with Nichushkin in the lineup this season and 9-8-2 without him.

“It’s awesome to see him around,” said defenseman Cale Makar, whose team hosts Central Division-leading Dallas on Tuesday night. “Mental health comes first and hockey comes second, always. We’re all friends in this room, and we’ve got to support guys like that. ... At the end of the day, we’re a family and we’ve got to support him.”

Nichushkin has 22 goals and 20 assists in 40 games this season. He is two games away from reaching 500 regular-season contests for his career. He's also a big part of their power play.

“It’s nice just having him in the right mindset,” forward Logan O’Connor said. “We’re more worried about the individual than what he is as a player. He cleaned up that side of things and now having him a back is huge."

Nathan MacKinnon echoed that thought.

“Great teammate, obviously awesome player,” MacKinnon said. “Look forward to getting him back in the lineup.”

Nichushkin was away from the team in the playoffs last season for what the team explained at the time were personal reasons. He missed the final five postseason games of a first-round loss to Seattle.

His absence started after officers responded to a crisis call at the Four Seasons Hotel in Seattle the afternoon before Game 3 on April 22. A 28-year-old woman was in an ambulance when officers arrived, and medics were told to speak with an Avalanche team physician to gather more details.

The report, obtained at the time from the Seattle Police Department by The Associated Press, said the Avalanche physician told officers that team employees found the woman when they were checking in on Nichushkin. The physician told officers the woman appeared to be heavily intoxicated — too intoxicated to have left the hotel “in a ride share or cab service,” and requested EMS assistance.

When approached in the ambulance by officers, the woman stated she was from Russia but born in Ukraine. She was transported to Virginia Mason Medical Center in Seattle, according to the report.

In September, Nichushkin deflected questions about his absence from the playoff series. He said he and the team both decided for him to be away for the remainder of the playoff series against the Kraken. Colorado lost in seven games.

“Mental health is so important,” Bednar said Monday. "In any walk of life, you can’t perform the way that you want to perform or live day-to-day the way you want to if you’re not feeling right, and feeling positive mentally.

“I think even more so for an athlete, it’s extremely important to take care of yourself away from the rink. That’s just going to translate to better play and feeling good about what you’re doing on a daily basis.”


AP Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno contributed to this report.



Pat Graham, The Associated Press

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