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Colorado Avalanche try to forge ahead after losing Valeri Nichushkin to six-month suspension

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Colorado Avalanche try to forge ahead after losing Valeri Nichushkin to six-month suspension
Sport

Sport

Colorado Avalanche try to forge ahead after losing Valeri Nichushkin to six-month suspension

2024-05-15 06:24 Last Updated At:06:30

DENVER (AP) — The nameplate above the locker for Valeri Nichushkin has already been removed at the Colorado Avalanche's practice facility.

It could be just for now — or possibly for good.

For a second consecutive year, the Avalanche are on the brink of elimination from the playoffs with Nichushkin, one of their top players, unavailable due to circumstances away from the ice.

This may be the last straw for the Avs when it comes to the talented 29-year-old Russian forward.

Nichushkin was suspended for at least six months without pay Monday night and placed in stage 3 of the league's player assistance program. The National Hockey League and National Hockey League Players’ Association announced the news about an hour before the start of the Avalanche's 5-1 loss to the Dallas Stars that left them trailing 3-1 in the second-round series.

Coach Jared Bednar refused to blame the loss on the absence of the team's leading playoff scorer. After all, Colorado had been without Nichushkin earlier this season when he was receiving care; his return had buoyed Colorado, but stage 3 means he violated terms of the program, which provides help for everything from mental health needs to substance abuse.

Nichushkin will miss the rest of the postseason and the first month next season at a minimum.

Teammates heard word of his suspension at various times throughout the day. They were out of rhythm early in Game 4, outshot by a 16-2 margin in the first period and could never get on track. They must win Wednesday in Dallas to avoid elimination in the best-of-seven series.

“Obviously, tough for him, his family,” Colorado star Nathan MacKinnon said Tuesday after an optional practice, adding he was given the Nichushkin news from president Joe Sakic and general manager Chris MacFarland. "That’s all I’m going to say on that.”

Details of Nichushkin's struggles have not been disclosed. In a first-round playoff series last spring against Seattle, Nichushkin abruptly left the team and missed the final five games of the postseason as the Avalanche lost the series 4-3.

In this postseason run, Nichushkin has been a valuable contributor with a team-leading nine playoff goals. He is under contract through the 2029-30 season after signing an eight-year, $49 million contract with the Avalanche in 2022.

There’s no telling precisely when — or if — Nichushkin will be back. If he returns, how does he earn back the trust of teammates after they already gave him another chance?

“Val is obviously struggling with something,” Bednar said. ”Yeah, it sucks for our team. We’ve got to turn the page.

“I want him to be happy and I want him to be content in his life, whether that is with our team or not with our team,” Bednar added. “We hope that he can find some peace and get help.”

The team is in its peak title-winning window, too, behind a core group that includes the 28-year-old MacKinnon; Cale Makar, 25; and Mikko Rantanen, 27. They’re also hoping for a return from Gabriel Landeskog, their 31-year-old captain who had cartilage replacement surgery on his right knee last May and is missing a second straight season.

The pressing concern for Colorado is finding a way to regroup and avoid another early exit.

“This is a tough business, this is our job and we’re giving it all we’ve got,” forward Andrew Cogliano said. “So I think we focus on the guys in the room. We have a lot of good people here who are trying to make a difference and at the end of the day it is what it is for us.”

The Avalanche also found out just before Game 4 they would be without top defenseman Devon Toews because of an illness, another blow for a team that won the Stanley Cup championship in 2022.

“No one’s feeling sorry for us,” Cogliano said.

Nichushkin was unavailable for nearly two months earlier this season, from Jan. 13 to March 7, to receive care from the program for issues that were not released.

Last spring in the playoffs, Nichushkin's absence started after officers responded to a crisis call at a Seattle hotel 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 and requested EMS assistance.

Colorado's season ended with a 2-1 home loss to the Kraken in Game 7.

It very well could end in Dallas on Wednesday.

“Obviously, we want Val in the lineup and we want (Toews) in the lineup,” MacKinnon said. “But I still feel like we’re good enough to win it all.”

AP Hockey Writer Stephen Whyno contributed to this report.

AP NHL: https://apnews.com/hub/nhl

Colorado Avalanche coach Jared Bednar confers with players during a timeout in the third period of Game 3 of the team's NHL hockey Stanley Cup playoff series against the Dallas Stars on Saturday, May 11, 2024, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

Colorado Avalanche coach Jared Bednar confers with players during a timeout in the third period of Game 3 of the team's NHL hockey Stanley Cup playoff series against the Dallas Stars on Saturday, May 11, 2024, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

Dallas Stars left wing Jamie Benn, center, fights his way past Colorado Avalanche center Yakov Trenin, back, and right wing Valeri Nichushkin during the second period of Game 3 of an NHL hockey Stanley Cup playoff series Saturday, May 11, 2024, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

Dallas Stars left wing Jamie Benn, center, fights his way past Colorado Avalanche center Yakov Trenin, back, and right wing Valeri Nichushkin during the second period of Game 3 of an NHL hockey Stanley Cup playoff series Saturday, May 11, 2024, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

FILE - Colorado Avalanche forward Valeri Nichushkin celebrates his goal during the second period of the team's NHL hockey game against the Buffalo Sabres, Feb. 4, 2020, in Buffalo, N.Y. Nichushkin was suspended and placed in stage 3 of the the league's player assistance program before Game 4 on Monday, May 13, 2024, night of a second-round series with Dallas. (AP Photo/Jeffrey T. Barnes, File)

FILE - Colorado Avalanche forward Valeri Nichushkin celebrates his goal during the second period of the team's NHL hockey game against the Buffalo Sabres, Feb. 4, 2020, in Buffalo, N.Y. Nichushkin was suspended and placed in stage 3 of the the league's player assistance program before Game 4 on Monday, May 13, 2024, night of a second-round series with Dallas. (AP Photo/Jeffrey T. Barnes, File)

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Tributes to Willie Mays pour in as mural is unveiled in Alabama

2024-06-20 08:48 Last Updated At:08:51

BIRMINGHAM, Ala. (AP) — Willie Mays gave a message to his longtime friend Dusty Baker just a day before he died.

Mays, who died Tuesday afternoon at 93 years old, knew that he wouldn't be able to make the trip to Birmingham, Alabama, for a week of festivities honoring the contributions that he and other Negro Leaguers have made to baseball. But he wanted Baker to share a message to the city he long called home.

“Birmingham, I wish I could be with you all today,” said Mays' good friend and adviser Jeff Bleich, reading the statement at a ceremony Wednesday honoring Mays' life and career. “This is where I'm from. I had my first pro hit here at Rickwood as a Black Baron. And now this year, some 76 years later, that hit finally got counted in the record books. I guess some things take time. But I always think better late than never.”

Mays also sent an antique clock with his picture on it to the city of Birmingham. Baker was not feeling well, Bleich said, so he was not at the ceremony.

“Time changes things,” Mays continued in his note. "Time heals wounds. And that's a good thing. I had some of the best times of my life in Birmingham. So I want you to have this clock to remember those times with me, and to remember all the other players who were lucky enough to play here together."

The ceremony took place in downtown Birmingham just miles from Rickwood Field, where Mays' unforgettable career began. Bleich joined Birmingham Mayor Randall Woodfin and San Francisco Giants CEO Larry Baer in giving speeches in Mays' honor, standing in front of a grand mural display of the former Giants center fielder.

It's an enchanting depiction of the electrifying “Say Hey Kid,” showing Mays beaming with his hands resting on his knees, his bevy of athletic accomplishments painted around him.

The artwork was created by artist Chuck Styles, who said he wanted to capture Mays' humanity.

“I knew I wanted to showcase him in a way that everybody knew him for," Styles said, "and that was his smile.”

Other tributes to Mays, born in Westfield, Alabama, near Birmingham, poured in all over the country on Wednesday, including from President Joe Biden.

“Like so many others in my neighborhood and around the country, when I played Little League, I wanted to play center field because of Willie Mays,” Biden said in a statement. “It was a rite of passage to practice his basket catches, daring steals, and command at the plate — only to be told by coaches to cut it out because no one can do what Willie Mays could do.”

Mays, who began his professional career with the Birmingham Black Barons of the Negro Leagues in 1948, had been baseball’s oldest living Hall of Famer and was considered the sport's greatest living player.

He died two days before a game between the Giants and St. Louis Cardinals to honor the Negro Leagues at Rickwood Field in Birmingham.

“It’s actually even heavier today,” said Giants manager Bob Melvin, wearing a Mays T-shirt. “When you read all the articles and you read what everybody has to say about him, it kind of comes full circle in what he’s meant to our country. Even if you don’t know baseball, you know who Willie Mays is.”

The Giants wore patches with Mays' No. 24 on their chest for Wednesday's game against the Chicago Cubs.

When the team travels to Birmingham for the commemorative game at Rickwood Field on Thursday, the Giants will open Oracle Park for fans to watch the game on the scoreboard, the team announced.

Images of Mays will appear on the scoreboard before and after the event, and a sculpture of his jersey number will be placed in center field to honor him.

Cardinals assistant coach Willie McGee said he had several conversations with Mays when he played for the Giants from 1991-94.

“Willie was the best, man, the greatest I have ever seen,” McGee said. “He had all six tools. His aggressiveness, his baserunning. That is what separated him, for me, his aggressiveness and his instincts from other five-tool guys.”

When asked if Mays ever gave him any advice, McGee chuckled.

“All the time — but I don’t remember none of it,” he said.

Some of the most sincere words Wednesday came from those who grew up in Alabama.

Jameis Winston, a backup quarterback with the Cleveland Browns who was born in Bessemer, Alabama, smiled graciously as he looked out at Rickwood Field. Winston was in town along with many other notable figures to celebrate Mays and the Negro Leagues in a celebrity softball game at the ballpark.

“He was an amazing man," Winston said. "He had a tremendous legacy, a tremendous career playing baseball. I’m so happy that I’m allowed to be on the diamond, united with all my brothers.”

Next to Winston, comedian and actor Roy Wood Jr. spoke thoughtfully and earnestly. Wood, who grew up playing high school baseball at Rickwood Field, was doing a broadcast at the ballpark Tuesday night when news of Mays' death was announced.

Wood took brief pauses between his sentences Wednesday, as if carefully choosing the words that would best describe that moment.

“The dichotomy of live television is trying to remain human but also being a professional,” Wood said. “And it was saddening. ... There was a 90-second round of applause for Willie Mays, and you looked up in the crowd and you saw people crying but you saw them hugging and smiling.”

Kelly McFarland had taken a brief break from her job directing buses into the ballpark when she heard the news Tuesday evening. She was taking pictures next to one of the tributes of Mays at the ballpark when someone tapped her on the shoulder.

“They said, ‘You know he’s passed?’” said McFarland, a Birmingham native. "And so I look over at the field and that’s when you could just feel an eerie feeling. And you just saw tears from grown adult people, men, just crying.

“I'm glad I got a chance to experience what he put out into the community, and to see the emotions from people age 93 to 3.”

AP Sports Writer Andrew Seligman in Chicago and Associated Press writer Terry Spencer in Miami contributed to this report.

AP MLB: https://apnews.com/hub/mlb

Former San Francisco Giants player Willie Mays's patch is on San Francisco Giants manager Bob Melvin's jersey before a baseball game against the Chicago Cubs in Chicago, Wednesday, June 19, 2024. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

Former San Francisco Giants player Willie Mays's patch is on San Francisco Giants manager Bob Melvin's jersey before a baseball game against the Chicago Cubs in Chicago, Wednesday, June 19, 2024. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

Fans and San Francisco Giants team members stand for a moment of silence for Willie Mays, who died Tuesday, before a baseball game between the Giants and the Chicago Cubs in Chicago, Wednesday, June 19, 2024. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

Fans and San Francisco Giants team members stand for a moment of silence for Willie Mays, who died Tuesday, before a baseball game between the Giants and the Chicago Cubs in Chicago, Wednesday, June 19, 2024. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

Fans and San Francisco Giants coaching staff stand for a moment of silence for Willie Mays before a baseball game between the Giants and the Chicago Cubs in Chicago, Wednesday, June 19, 2024. Mays died Tuesday. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

Fans and San Francisco Giants coaching staff stand for a moment of silence for Willie Mays before a baseball game between the Giants and the Chicago Cubs in Chicago, Wednesday, June 19, 2024. Mays died Tuesday. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

San Francisco Giants manager Bob Melvin looks at the jersey of former San Francisco Giants player Willie Mays in the dugout before a baseball game against the Chicago Cubs in Chicago, Wednesday, June 19, 2024. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

San Francisco Giants manager Bob Melvin looks at the jersey of former San Francisco Giants player Willie Mays in the dugout before a baseball game against the Chicago Cubs in Chicago, Wednesday, June 19, 2024. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

Boston Red Sox players stand to observe a moment of silence for Willie Mays before the team's baseball game against the Toronto Blue Jays on Wednesday, June 19, 2024, in Toronto. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press via AP)

Boston Red Sox players stand to observe a moment of silence for Willie Mays before the team's baseball game against the Toronto Blue Jays on Wednesday, June 19, 2024, in Toronto. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press via AP)

Players and fans observe a moment of silence for Willie Mays, who died Tuesday, before a baseball game between the Boston Red Sox and the Toronto Blue Jays on Wednesday, June 19, 2024, in Toronto. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press via AP)

Players and fans observe a moment of silence for Willie Mays, who died Tuesday, before a baseball game between the Boston Red Sox and the Toronto Blue Jays on Wednesday, June 19, 2024, in Toronto. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press via AP)

Toronto Blue Jays players and staff observe a moment of silence for Willie Mays before the team's baseball game against the Boston Red Sox on Wednesday, June 19, 2024, in Toronto. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press via AP)

Toronto Blue Jays players and staff observe a moment of silence for Willie Mays before the team's baseball game against the Boston Red Sox on Wednesday, June 19, 2024, in Toronto. (Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press via AP)

Cleveland Guardians manager Stephen Vogt, left, and others stand for a moment of silence in tribute to Willie Mays, who died Tuesday, before a baseball game between the Seattle Mariners and the Guardians, Wednesday, June 19, 2024, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)

Cleveland Guardians manager Stephen Vogt, left, and others stand for a moment of silence in tribute to Willie Mays, who died Tuesday, before a baseball game between the Seattle Mariners and the Guardians, Wednesday, June 19, 2024, in Cleveland. (AP Photo/Sue Ogrocki)

Members of the Chicago White Sox's Youth Baseball League stand during a moment of silence for Willie Mays, who died Tuesday, before a baseball game between the White Sox and the Houston Astros on Wednesday, June 19, 2024, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

Members of the Chicago White Sox's Youth Baseball League stand during a moment of silence for Willie Mays, who died Tuesday, before a baseball game between the White Sox and the Houston Astros on Wednesday, June 19, 2024, in Chicago. (AP Photo/Charles Rex Arbogast)

Colorado Rockies outfielders Hunter Goodman, right, and Charlie Blackmon join with teammates to stand during a moment of silence for the death of Willie Mays before a baseball game against the Los Angeles Dodgers Wednesday, June 19, 2024, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

Colorado Rockies outfielders Hunter Goodman, right, and Charlie Blackmon join with teammates to stand during a moment of silence for the death of Willie Mays before a baseball game against the Los Angeles Dodgers Wednesday, June 19, 2024, in Denver. (AP Photo/David Zalubowski)

A tribute to Baseball Hall of Fame Willie Mays is displayed on the video board during a baseball game between the Tampa Bay Rays and Minnesota Twins, Wednesday, June 19, 2024, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Abbie Parr)

A tribute to Baseball Hall of Fame Willie Mays is displayed on the video board during a baseball game between the Tampa Bay Rays and Minnesota Twins, Wednesday, June 19, 2024, in Minneapolis. (AP Photo/Abbie Parr)

A moment of silence in memory of Willie Mays is observed before a baseball game between the Philadelphia Phillies and the San Diego Padres, Wednesday, June 19, 2024, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

A moment of silence in memory of Willie Mays is observed before a baseball game between the Philadelphia Phillies and the San Diego Padres, Wednesday, June 19, 2024, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

The jersey of former San Francisco Giants player Willie Mays hangs in the dugout as San Francisco Giants manager Bob Melvin looks down before a baseball game against the Chicago Cubs in Chicago, Wednesday, June 19, 2024. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

The jersey of former San Francisco Giants player Willie Mays hangs in the dugout as San Francisco Giants manager Bob Melvin looks down before a baseball game against the Chicago Cubs in Chicago, Wednesday, June 19, 2024. (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh)

Washington Nationals manager Dave Martinez bows his head during a moment of silence in observance of the death of Baseball Hall of Fame Willie Mays before a baseball game against the Arizona Diamondbacks Wednesday, June 19, 2024, in Washington. (AP Photo/John McDonnell)

Washington Nationals manager Dave Martinez bows his head during a moment of silence in observance of the death of Baseball Hall of Fame Willie Mays before a baseball game against the Arizona Diamondbacks Wednesday, June 19, 2024, in Washington. (AP Photo/John McDonnell)

Atlanta Braves players stand for a moment of silence in observance of the death of Baseball Hall of Fame Willie Mays before a baseball game against the Detroit Tigers at Truist Park, Wednesday, June 19, 2024, in Atlanta. (Jason Getz/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP)

Atlanta Braves players stand for a moment of silence in observance of the death of Baseball Hall of Fame Willie Mays before a baseball game against the Detroit Tigers at Truist Park, Wednesday, June 19, 2024, in Atlanta. (Jason Getz/Atlanta Journal-Constitution via AP)

A plaque is shown on the Willie Mays mural in Wednesday, June 19, 2024 in downtown Birmingham, Ala. A mural honoring baseball Hall of Famer Willie Mays has been unveiled in downtown Birmingham, Alabama. Mays died Tuesday at the age of 93.(AP Photo/Alanis Thames).

A plaque is shown on the Willie Mays mural in Wednesday, June 19, 2024 in downtown Birmingham, Ala. A mural honoring baseball Hall of Famer Willie Mays has been unveiled in downtown Birmingham, Alabama. Mays died Tuesday at the age of 93.(AP Photo/Alanis Thames).

A Flower display is seen at the ceremony for the unveiling of Willie Mays' mural Wednesday, June 19, 2024 in downtown Birmingham, Ala. A mural honoring baseball Hall of Famer Willie Mays has been unveiled in downtown Birmingham, Alabama. Mays died Tuesday at the age of 93. (AP Photo/Alanis Thames).

A Flower display is seen at the ceremony for the unveiling of Willie Mays' mural Wednesday, June 19, 2024 in downtown Birmingham, Ala. A mural honoring baseball Hall of Famer Willie Mays has been unveiled in downtown Birmingham, Alabama. Mays died Tuesday at the age of 93. (AP Photo/Alanis Thames).

A Willie Mays mural is shown in downtown Birmingham, Ala., Wednesday, June 19, 2024. The mural was created by artist Chuck Styles and celebrates Mays' contributions to baseball, honoring the longtime Giants center fielder who died Tuesday at age 93.(AP Photo/Alanis Thames)

A Willie Mays mural is shown in downtown Birmingham, Ala., Wednesday, June 19, 2024. The mural was created by artist Chuck Styles and celebrates Mays' contributions to baseball, honoring the longtime Giants center fielder who died Tuesday at age 93.(AP Photo/Alanis Thames)

CORRECTS TO SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS, NOT NEW YORK GIANTS AS ORIGINALLY SENT - FILE - San Francisco Giants' Willie Mays poses for a photo during baseball spring training in 1972. Mays, the electrifying “Say Hey Kid” whose singular combination of talent, drive and exuberance made him one of baseball’s greatest and most beloved players, has died. He was 93. Mays' family and the San Francisco Giants jointly announced Tuesday night, June 18, 2024, he had “passed away peacefully” Tuesday afternoon surrounded by loved ones. (AP Photo, File)

CORRECTS TO SAN FRANCISCO GIANTS, NOT NEW YORK GIANTS AS ORIGINALLY SENT - FILE - San Francisco Giants' Willie Mays poses for a photo during baseball spring training in 1972. Mays, the electrifying “Say Hey Kid” whose singular combination of talent, drive and exuberance made him one of baseball’s greatest and most beloved players, has died. He was 93. Mays' family and the San Francisco Giants jointly announced Tuesday night, June 18, 2024, he had “passed away peacefully” Tuesday afternoon surrounded by loved ones. (AP Photo, File)

FILE - San Francisco Giants Hall of Famer Willie Mays, left, looks over his 2010 World Series championship ring that was presented to him by Giants center fielder Andres Torres, right, before their baseball game against the St. Louis Cardinals in San Francisco, Saturday, April, 9, 2011. Willie Mays, the electrifying “Say Hey Kid” whose singular combination of talent, drive and exuberance made him one of baseball’s greatest and most beloved players, has died. He was 93. Mays' family and the San Francisco Giants jointly announced Tuesday night, June 18, 2024, he had died earlier in the afternoon in the Bay Area. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg, Pool, File)

FILE - San Francisco Giants Hall of Famer Willie Mays, left, looks over his 2010 World Series championship ring that was presented to him by Giants center fielder Andres Torres, right, before their baseball game against the St. Louis Cardinals in San Francisco, Saturday, April, 9, 2011. Willie Mays, the electrifying “Say Hey Kid” whose singular combination of talent, drive and exuberance made him one of baseball’s greatest and most beloved players, has died. He was 93. Mays' family and the San Francisco Giants jointly announced Tuesday night, June 18, 2024, he had died earlier in the afternoon in the Bay Area. (AP Photo/Eric Risberg, Pool, File)

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