Valeri Nichushkin spoke publicly Thursday for the first time since leaving the Avalanche under murky circumstances during the 2023 Stanley Cup Playoffs, but offered few details about the incident in his Seattle hotel room.
Nichushkin skated with the second group of Avalanche players during the first day of training camp, one day after his coach and multiple teammates offered support, welcoming him back “with open arms.”
“I know you guys want to find something there, but it’s nothing really interesting,” Nichushkin said, referring to his extended absence from Colorado’s first-round playoff series against the Kraken as a “family reason.” “I think we should close it. It’s a new season right now. We have to focus on that.”
Nichushkin did not play in the final five games of Colorado’s opening-round loss to Seattle. A team doctor found an intoxicated woman in Nichushkin’s Seattle hotel room the day of Game 3, and called an ambulance to transport her to the hospital, according to a Seattle police report.
The Avalanche have not acknowledged the police report, and have not said Nichushkin was disciplined for the incident. Deputy commissioner Bill Daly told reporters during the 2023 Stanley Cup Final that the league was satisfied with how it was handled and Nichushkin faced no repercussions from the NHL.
Colorado coach Jared Bednar said Wednesday that he talked with Nichushkin twice during the offseason before he rejoined the team.
“Number one, I wanted to see how he was doing, with what he was going through at the end of the season and making sure that was all taken care of and cleared, where his head was at for his offseason training,” Bednar said. “My meeting with him the other day was just how did (the offseason) go? I have a lengthy relationship with Val now. I just wanted to make sure his head was in the right place and he was able to train the way he wanted to train. That was my concern — number one, his well being and where is his game at and is he ready to go?”
Nichushkin said it was a mutual decision between him and the organization for the Russian forward to leave the team in Seattle after some discussion about the situation. The next thing he said was the most surprising part of his brief media availability.
“If we make the next round (last spring), I probably play,” he asserted.
The Avalanche did not reach the second round, in part because of key injuries, Nichushkin’s absence and strong play from the Kraken’s depth players and their goaltender, ex-Avs netminder Philipp Grubauer. Colorado general manager Chris MacFarland addressed the depth concerns in the offseason with several new faces joining the forward group.
Whether or not Nichushkin can regain the form that made him a critical part of the club’s 2022 championship run remains to be seen.
“We need him,” Avs defenseman Jack Johnson said. “He’s a big part of this team. It was a big loss when we didn’t have him last year. We are just hoping that he’s in a good place and happy and mentally sound and all of those things. But selfishly, we need him. That’s the biggest thing.”
Nichushkin did not offer much to help understand what happened in that Seattle hotel room last April, or why he might have returned to the team in the second round. He did say he’s had no problems with his teammates since leaving Seattle, and thanked them for their support. He did note that he has a couple minor injuries, but otherwise is happy to be back with the team and practicing again.
When asked about a report that the woman in his room claimed someone had taken her passport, he reiterated his earlier stance.
“Let’s close it,” Nichushkin said. “I don’t want to talk about it.”
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