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Avalanche’s Nichushkin placed in Stage 3 of NHL/NHLPA Player Assistance program

Valeri Nichushkin Colorado Avalanche Valeri Nichushkin - Getty Images

DENVER (AP) — Colorado Avalanche forward Valeri Nichushkin was suspended for at least six months without pay and placed in Stage 3 of the league's player assistance program before Game 4 on Monday night of a second-round playoff series with the Dallas Stars.

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

The 29-year-old Russian forward will miss the rest of the post-season and the first month next season at a minimum.

He leads the team with nine playoff goals this season.

Nichushkin was gone for nearly two months earlier this season to receive care from the NHLPA/NHL Player Assistance Program for issues that were not disclosed. This was on the heels of missing the final five games of a playoff loss last season for what the team explained as personal reasons.

Nichushkin wasn't available to the team from Jan. 13 to March 7 after entering the program. He became the second Avalanche player to enter the program during the regular season, following defenceman 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 with only the explanation that it was for personal reasons. His absence started after officers 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 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 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.

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

— AP Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno contributed to this report.