Shane Pinto returns to Senators' practice after his 41-game gambling suspension, can play Jan. 21

OTTAWA, Ontario (AP) — Shane Pinto skated with his Ottawa Senators teammates on Friday and may play in an NHL game on Jan. 21 after becoming the first player in the league's modern era to be suspended for gambling.

Pinto was suspended for 41 games, half the season, in October, for violating NHL gambling policies. No other information about the circumstances of the ban were revealed. Pinto declined to go into detail after practice when meeting with reporters for the first time since the suspension.

“Definitely, I was caught off guard a bit,” Pinto said. “It just kind of came out of nowhere and kind of went from there.”

Pinto, who turned 23 in November, is eligible to play a week from Sunday at Philadelphia, although he must first sign a contract. Coach Jacques Martin expects Pinto will be in the lineup against the Flyers.

After spending several months around family on Long Island and working with a skating coach, the native of Franklin Square, New York, expects to be in game shape soon.

“I’ve been skating a lot,” Pinto said. “I've been skating every day, really ramping up. I think my conditioning will be there.”

Pinto said he has talked to many fellow NHL players about his suspension. He hopes it will serve as a cautionary tale so others don't make the same mistake.

It’s good that I can help them now," he said. “That’s what I’m there for now. I’m the first one in a long time, so just kind of learn from my experience.”

Before Pinto, the last NHL players to be suspended for gambling were Billy Taylor, Don Gallinger and Babe Pratt back in the 1940s.

Pinto was the latest professional athlete suspended since the U.S. Supreme Court cleared the way for legalized sports wagering in 2018. At least 10 NFL players have recently been banned for gambling, most notably receiver Calvin Ridley missing the entire 2022 season for betting on games in the league. The NBA and MLB have not announced any recent gambling punishments, though the topic is a growing concern across college sports.

The Senators in 2021 became the first team to add a gambling-related entity as a helmet sponsor with Bet99. Their home helmets now bear the logo of Betway, an international gambling company.

“You see it on the commercials now,” Pinto said. “It’s pretty evident. But that’s no excuse, I think. I’ve got to be more cautious and just more mature in what I’m doing, and I’ve got to realize what position I’m in. There’s always going to be a microscope on professional athletes.”

Pinto became a full-time NHL player last season, recording 35 points while playing all 82 games. He was a restricted free agent without a deal when the suspension was announced.

Since then, the Senators under new owner Michael Andlauer have fired general manager Pierre Dorion after being stripped of a first-round pick. He replaced him with Steve Staios, who fired coach D.J. Smith and replaced him with Martin. Ottawa has lost 23 of their first 37 games.

Pinto said he feels like he let his teammates down and is ready to turn the page on this chapter of his career. He hasn't played an NHL game since April 13.

“It’s been a tough couple months here, and I know I’ve been a distraction towards (the team), so I kind of feel bad about that,” Pinto said. “I just want to really focus on hockey here and put this all behind me. It was definitely a learning lesson for me, and I just want to make good of it and try to get the trust back from the boys and all the fans.”