Shane Pinto was able to turn the page Friday.
Now, he can finally get ready for the next chapter of his career.
The Ottawa Senators’ centre, banned 41 games for breaking the National Hockey League’s gambling rules, resumed skating with his teammates for the first time since Pinto had the book thrown at him by commissioner Gary Bettman in October.
He was thrilled to be back.
“It’s awesome. It’s special,” Pinto said Friday in his first public comments since the suspension. “You kind of take it for granted being around the team and how much the boys mean to you. It’s good to be back. I don’t want to get too emotional about it, but it’s awesome.
“It’s been a long road for me but I’m happy to be back on this road.”
With four games left to serve in the suspension before Pinto is schedule to suit up against the Philadelphia Flyers Jan. 21 on the road in Game 42 of the regular season, the efforts to get him ready to resume his career will now be stepped up in the next eight days.
A restricted free agent, Pinto, 23, hasn’t suited up for an NHL game since the club dropped a 4-3 decision to the Buffalo Sabres on April 13, 2023 in the final game of the Senators’ season. By time he faces the Flyers, it will be the first time he’s played for the club in 283 days.
“It was an extended off-season. I took advantage of it for sure. My body feels unreal,” Pinto said. “I’ve done a lot of maturing in the last couple of months. I grew up a lot off the ice and that’s only going to help me on the ice.”
Pinto said he’s learned a lot in the last few months.
“There’s so many. Life can change in an instant no matter what you do,” Pinto said. “Sometimes you take for granted how lucky we are and how quickly it can be taken away from you. I learned that pretty quickly and I’ve said a million times it gives me a greater appreciation for playing hockey.
“I won’t take it for granted.”
Pinto finished with 20 goals and 35 points in 82 games last season, but he’ll be trying to get up to speed at a time when teams are fighting for playoff spots and the Senators are trying desperately to get back on track.
He tried to use the time away wisely. Pinto worked with a skating coach at his home near Franklin, N.Y.
“A lot of it was back home,” Pinto said. “I came up here about three weeks ago. I had a skating coach who was keeping me upbeat and keeping me ready. I’ve just been working out.
“I just felt like I needed to be around my family. It wasn’t an easy couple of months. I’m all settled in and I’m just ready to go.”
Pinto said he didn’t want to get into the details of why he was suspended. He has received a lot of calls from other NHL players to educate them on why he was banned and has told his story so they don’t make the same mistake.
“I don’t want to get into too much detail, but I definitely was caught off guard a bit,” Pinto said. “It just kind of came out of nowhere and I just kind of went from there.”
He was devastated at the length of the suspension.
“It broke my heart honestly. 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,” Pinto said.
“You’re in shock at first and then you lean on the people around you to get you through it. I don’t think I could have gotten through it without my family, my friends and the boys checking in all the time. It was definitely tough, but we’re at the finish line here and I’m excited.”
Though Pinto hasn’t signed a contract yet, that is merely a formality. The expectation is he’ll sign a deal at or close to the $874,125 US qualifying offer he received from the Senators in the off-season.
Right now, he’s focused on getting ready to play.
“I’m just ready to move on,” Pinto said. “I just want really want to focus on hockey. It was definitely a learning lesson for me. I just want to make good of it and try to get the trust back from the boys and the fans.”
Pinto said he had plenty of support throughout this from his teammates, the club’s management, owner Michael Andlauer and the fans.
“It just means a lot to get that support,” Pinto said. “There was definitely a lot of long days, hard days, but I just had a lot of people in my corner so it’s definitely been good.”
Being back with the players meant a lot.
“It was kind of surreal,” he said. “It sounds corny, but I’ve played three years here now. It just made me appreciate the game so much more. It’s been a tough couple of months and I know I’ve been a distraction and I feel bad about that. Hopefully I can bring a better vibe and my smile.”
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