NASHVILLE -- Nashville Predators forward Jordin Tootoo says seeking help is something that he had to do for himself.
Tootoo spoke to reporters Monday after practising with the Predators for the first time since being cleared by the NHL and the NHL Players' Association after entering the follow-up care phase of the substance abuse and behavioural health program. He voluntarily entered the program Dec. 27, but he is prohibited from discussing exactly why he sought help.
"With the support I've gotten from my teammates, my family, the fans of Nashville, it has been unbelievable," Tootoo said. "Without their support, I probably couldn't have done it, I think bottom line is it's something I needed to do and at the same time, I'm just happy to be back and thankful."
Tootoo is allowed to practise with the Predators while continuing outpatient care. He has not been cleared to play in games or travel on road trips. His care is being overseen by program doctors with one each for the NHL and the players' association.
"I'm just going to take it one day at a time. Right now I'm just living in the moment and enjoying every bit of it. I can't tell you how far down. I'm just going to live in the moment right now," Tootoo said.
The Predators welcomed Tootoo back.
General manager David Poile said he spent a few minutes talking with the forward who was the first Inuit to play in the NHL when called up by the Predators in the 2003-04 season. Tootoo had been enjoying his best season yet in his seventh year with 10 points through 32 games and a team-high 47 penalty minutes.
"Nobody's perfect," Poile said. "We all have different issues in our life. I think that it just reached you know a situation where he was becoming more difficult and obviously a distraction to others in our organization. The point is, this is the important point, is that Jordin got it and Jordin did it and he knows he's better off for it today."
Coach Barry Trotz said they are proud of Tootoo for what he's doing, making him a better person and player.
"He is dealing with it the right way and he's manning up and that's what you're proud of," Trotz said. "He's manning up and taking responsibility and that's the first step for success."
How long it takes for Tootoo to return to playing depends on the doctors in the program.
"They give us the word, he'll be ready to go," Trotz said. "His first focus is on getting order in his life and we support him 100 per cent and the hockey thing will come and he's working towards that."