Vegas Golden Knight and former University of Minnesota Gopher Nate Schmidt was suspended Sunday for 20 regular-season games without pay by the NHL for allegedly taking a banned performance enhancing substance.
Schmidt, one of the team’s top defenseman, and Knights management quickly responded with vigorous rebukes of the suspension, which will start with the Knights’ season opener about a month from now.
“ I understand that I will miss these games, but I do not agree with the suspension, and I will not accept being labeled a cheater,” Schmidt said in a lengthy statement issued late Sunday morning.
A statement from the Knights said team officials also disagree with the suspension, adding, “We firmly believe that the presence of a trace of the banned substance was accidental and unintentional. Based on our conversations with Nate, analysis from independent medical experts and sworn testimony from the parties involved, we believe it is clear Nate was not able to reasonably ascertain how the substance entered his body.
Schmidt, 27, who played a key role in the Knights making it to the Stanley Cup Final last season before losing to Washington, added that “it was utterly shocking to be informed that I tested positive for a microscopic amount of a tainted substance. Not only did I not intentionally take a banned substance, I could not have received any performance enhancement benefit from the trace amount that inadvertently got into my system at a level that was far too small to have any effect. This low amount was consistent with environmental contamination that I could not possibly have prevented.”
Schmidt’s statement did not disclose the substance in question, nor did statements from the league or the team. Schmidt, the NHL and the Golden Knights said they would have nothing further to say at this point.
Schmidt, who played in high school for St. Cloud Cathedral and then three seasons for the Gophers from 2010 to 2013, said that one expert determined that the amount of the substance found in his system was “the equivalent of a pinch of salt in an Olympic-sized swimming pool. Another expert analyzed a sample of my hair and concluded there was no evidence of intentional use.”
In announcing the suspension, the NHL said Schmidt will be permitted to participate in team activities during training camp, but he will not dress or play in any preseason games.
The labor agreement between the NHL and the players union also calls for Schmidt to receive mandatory referral to a substance abuse program. The suspension will cost Schmidt roughly $575,000 of the $2.3 million he was scheduled to be paid this coming season.
After four seasons with the Washington Capitals, the undrafted Schmidt joined Las Vegas, played in 76 games and had five goals and 31 assists, all career highs.