Huge Step on Friday For Shane Pinto in Ottawa

 We have an official Shane Pinto sighting in Ottawa. For the first time since his 41-game suspension, the Ottawa Senators rookie scoring star from last season was back out on the ice at Senators practice on Friday, followed by his addressing the media for the first time as well.

Pinto talked about how great it felt to be back out on the ice with his teammates. 

“It’s awesome, it’s special. 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 wanna get too emotional but, it’s been a long road for me.”

Pinto said he had the support of everyone involved from the fans all the way up to upper management. “ It just means a lot to get that support. There was definitely a couple of hard days, but I had a lot of people in my corner.”

He said that while working out back at home away from the team, he did some work off the ice as well:

 “It's been a long road for me... A lot of maturing went on during those last couple months too. I grew up a lot off the ice and that’s just going to help me on the ice.” 

He also talked about how he felt when he first heard he was being suspended:

"It broke my heart. Honestly, I care about this game so much. I put so much time and effort into it and to just kind of get it taken away from you for that long, it’s just tough to hear. You’re in shock at first. 

“I couldn’t have gotten through it without my family and my friends, and the boys (teammates) checking in on me… But, we’re at the finish line here and I’m just excited for it honestly.”

Pinto, 23, broke through last season with a 20-goal rookie campaign playing in all 82 games for the Senators. He spent the summer as a restricted free agent, but when no contract offer was forthcoming, observers around the Sens were puzzled. It turned out that the investigation into his gambling violations was ongoing throughout the summer, until the NHL handed down its suspension on October 26th.

Pinto will be officially eligible to rejoin the Senators for game action as of January 21, when they take on the Philadelphia Flyers.

He's expected to accept the qualifying offer amount for a contract for the rest of the season, but a long-range extension is also being discussed.

The Senators have gone 14-23-0 in what's been a rough season on all fronts for the team.  

 Photo: Sergei Belski-USA TODAY Sports