Avs forward Valeri Nichushkin was suspended for at least six months an hour before Game 4 against the Stars

DENVER (AP) — Colorado Avalanche forward Valeri Nichushkin has been suspended without pay for at least six months and placed in the third phase of the league’s player assistance program before Game 4 on Monday night a second round series with Dallas.

The National Hockey League and the National Hockey League Players’ Association announced the news about an hour before the Stars’ game began. It’s the second time this season he’s been in the program. Level 3 means that Nichushkin violated the terms of the program.

The 29-year-old Russian forward will miss at least the remainder of the postseason and the first month of next season.

His teammates heard the news as they arrived at the rink Monday night before a 5-1 loss to the Stars that put them on the brink of elimination. They led 16-2 in the first period and trailed 3-1 in the best-of-seven series.

Game 5 is Wednesday in Dallas. Nichushkin leads the team with nine playoff goals this season.

“Val is obviously struggling,” Avalanche coach Jared Bednar said after the game. “Yeah, it sucks for our team. We have to turn the tide. We have to play much better than we did today. There are still more than 20 people in this room who care and want to win and are here. We have to focus on that. It hurts our team. No question. He’s a great player.”

Bednar wasn’t ready to go that route when asked about whether Nichushkin might have let the team down.

“I got to know Val as a person and him as one of our teammates and I want the best for him,” Bednar said. “I want him to be happy and to be satisfied in his life, whether it’s with our team or not with our team. I want the best for him and his family. I think all our guys are the same. We hope he finds some rest and gets help.”

Stars coach Pete DeBoer echoed those thoughts.

“Humanly speaking, you feel sorry for any athlete who struggles with these issues,” DeBoer said.

Nichushkin was away for almost two months at the start of this season are looked after by the NHLPA/NHL Player Assistance Program for undisclosed issues. This came after the team missed the final five games of a playoff loss last season for personal reasons.

Nichushkin was unavailable to the team from January 13 to March 7 after joining the program. He was the second Avalanche player to join the program during the regular season, following defenseman Samuel Girard, who said in November that anxiety and depression led to alcohol abuse. Girard returned in mid-December.

In a first-round playoff series last spring against Seattle, Nichushkin abruptly left the team, explaining that this was for personal reasons. His absence began after officials responded to a crisis call at the Four Seasons Hotel in Seattle before Game 3. A 28-year-old woman was in an ambulance when officers arrived, and paramedics were directed to speak with a doctor from the avalanche team to gather further details.

The report, which The Associated Press obtained from the Seattle Police Department at the time, said the avalanche doctor told officers that team members had found the woman while searching for Nichushkin. The doctor told officers that the woman appeared to be heavily intoxicated and was too intoxicated to have left the hotel “in a rideshare or taxi ride” and asked for emergency medical services to help her.

Before the season, Nichushkin dodged questions about the situation, saying only: “I know you want to find something there, but it’s nothing really interesting. “I think we should close it.”

Asked after the game if he could imagine a scenario in which Nichushkin and the team could get back together at some point, Bednar simply replied, “I have no idea.”


AP Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno contributed to this report.