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Ozolinsh Leaves the Ducks Indefinitely // latimes.com
Defenseman, who failed to show up to practice Monday, voluntarily enters NHL's substance-abuse program.
By Eric Stephens, Times Staff Writer
ST. LOUIS — Mighty Duck defenseman Sandis Ozolinsh has voluntarily entered the NHL's substance-abuse and behavioral health program and will leave the team for an indefinite amount of time, officials with the league, the players' union and the team said Thursday.
Ozolinsh, 33, will receive treatment at an undisclosed facility under the joint care of Dr. Dave Lewis of the NHL and Dr. Brian Shaw of the NHL Players' Assn. NHL spokesman Frank Brown said there is no set period for treatment and that the length of time will be determined by Lewis and Shaw.
"It is up to the evaluation of the administering physicians," Brown said.
Neither league nor union officials, who are prohibited from commenting on substance-abuse cases, disclosed the exact nature of Ozolinsh's problem.
Team officials first grew alarmed when the six-time All-Star failed to show up for practice Monday — the first one held after a four-day Christmas break.
Attempts were made to reach Ozolinsh, but to no avail. He then failed to make the team bus Tuesday as the Ducks prepared to leave for Columbus, Ohio — the first stop on a three-game trip. The Ducks are currently in St. Louis, where they play the Blues on Saturday.
League and NHLPA officials said Thursday that Ozolinsh is being considered a "Stage 1" case, or someone who is a first-time patient.
In that scenario, Ozolinsh will not be penalized by the team or the league. If he violates the terms of the treatment and prescribed aftercare program, he will be considered "Stage 2" and could face suspension without pay.
The league and union are jointly paying for Ozolinsh's treatment.
The substance-abuse program was part of the 1995 collective-bargaining agreement and launched the next year.
Of immediate concern to Duck officials and teammates was Ozolinsh's health and welfare.
"We certainly support Sandis' decision," Duck General Manager Brian Burke said. "I've spoken to his wife [Sandra] and made it clear that anything they need from us is theirs for the asking.
"Essentially, this is a disease and what is required to deal with substance abuse is, one, top medical support. Second is the support from your peers and family and friends. The notion that people all around you can support you in a time like this.
"Third is the willpower of the individual. We feel we can deliver the first two."
Ozolinsh, who only last week said he hoped to be able join the team on this trip after suffering a knee injury last month, is enduring possibly the worst season of his 13-year career.
Up until Thursday Coach Randy Carlyle initially excused Ozolinsh's absence by saying it was because of "personal, family issues." Carlyle said he did that to protect Ozolinsh, his wife and two children.
"Obviously he felt that when he didn't show up for practice, he felt it was in the best interest to stay away," Carlyle said. "In those situations, we as a coaching staff and an organization have to support him and his family.
"It's a life decision that you make. In this specific instance, you can [try to] keep quiet about it but the reason we did that was to protect the player and his family. As the organization goes forward, we fully support him and his wife and children to help him get through this.
"This is a life crisis, not a hockey crisis."
Ozolinsh, on injured reserve since straining his left knee Nov. 27 against the Chicago Blackhawks, has played in only 13 games and scored four points. In his second full season with the Ducks, he signed a two-year, $5.5-million contract extension July 29 after joining the team in time for their run to the 2003 Stanley Cup finals