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Pinto speaks as 41-game ban nears end: 'It just kind of came out of nowhere'

Shane Pinto Shane Pinto - The Canadian Press

OTTAWA — Friday was a day of firsts for Shane Pinto.

The Ottawa Senators centre practised with the team and addressed media for the first time since receiving a 41-game suspension from the NHL for "activities relating to sports wagering" on Oct. 26. The 23-year-old will be eligible to return Jan. 21 when the Senators face Philadelphia.

"It's awesome, it's special," he told reporters in Ottawa. "You kind of take it for granted, being around the team and how much the boys mean to you.

"It's just good to be back, I don't want to get too emotional but it's awesome. It's been a long road for me and I'm just happy to be back around the fellas."

Pinto had already been dealing with a drawn out contract situation before the suspension.

He's still a restricted free agent and was unable to work out an extension with the Senators in the off-season. Pinto was coming off a 20-goal, 15-assist campaign in his first full season — his third overall — in 2022-23.

According to TSN, he is expected to sign a contract before he plays later this month.

Pinto refused to get into detail on what caused the suspension, but he said it caught him by surprise.

"A little bit," he said. "I don't want to get too much into detail about it but definitely was caught off guard a bit. It just kind of came out of nowhere and went from there."

"It broke my heart, honestly," he added. "I care about this game so much, I put so much time and effort into it and to get it taken away from you for that long — it's just tough to hear. You're kind of at shock at first and you just lean on the people to get you through it."

Pinto said he's had conversations with other players to learn from his situation.

"It's just part of it now, I think," he said of gambling in sports. "You see it on the commercials now, it's pretty heavy.

"But that's no excuse. I've got to be more cautious, just more mature in what I'm doing. I got to realize the position I'm in. There's always going to be a microscope on professional athletes. Like I said, I took that for granted and I've got to be better with it."

Pinto said he had support from the team and spent much of his "extended off-season" at home, where he was able to be around family and friends. He returned to Ottawa three weeks ago but said he has been skating throughout the time off.

The Senators, meanwhile, have gone 14-23-0 and sit at the bottom of the Eastern Conference. Pinto said he found it tough to watch the games, especially early on and said he felt "helpless."

However, he doesn't feel as though he's a far away from being in mid-season form.

"I think just a little bit of the timing might be different but I've been skating a lot. I've been skating everyday, really ramping up," he said.

"I think my conditioning will be there, maybe some little things, like my puck touches and timing. I think it'll take one or two games and I'll be hopefully back and contributing."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Jan. 12, 2024.