Forward Shawn Horcoff returned to practice with the Anaheim Ducks on Tuesday while serving his 20-game suspension for violating the terms of the NHL's performance-enhancing substances program.
Horcoff practised with his teammates on the first day he was eligible to come back. His suspension lasts until March 11.
"Any time you go through something like this, the hardest part is being away from the guys," Horcoff said after practice. "I was allowed to use the facilities and work out and keep myself in shape. I just wasn't allowed to be in practices or around the team until this point. I really worked hard to make sure I was ready when I came back."
Horcoff says he regrets taking an unspecified substance to deal with a hand injury that happened in November and gradually deteriorated. Before he sought outside treatment, he was finding it difficult to grasp his stick.
"I should have done my homework," he said. "I took it for granted that the stuff I was getting, the person who gave it to me, knew it was going to be okay. That was my mistake."
The 37-year-old Horcoff declined to specify the substance or where he got it, saying only it came from someone not employed by the team. He failed a drug test in December and received his suspension in January, casting a cloud over his first season with the Ducks.
"The biggest thing was I wasn't doing anything to try to enhance my performance," Horcoff said. "I had a legitimate injury. I think that's the thing that frustrates me the most. People who are close to me know how much I care about the integrity of the game. This game has given me so much. I have so much respect for it. I would never do something like that."
Horcoff has six goals and four assists in 45 games with Anaheim. He will lose nearly $360,000 (U.S.) in salary during the suspension, but he affirmed his belief in the league's drug testing programs.
"The league was very clear," Horcoff said. "They tell us all the time, 'You're responsible for what goes in your body.' I paid the price for it, a steep price for it. You really got to know what you're doing. It could be anything. Ultimately, it falls on you."
Horcoff spent his first 13 NHL seasons with Edmonton, including three years as the Oilers' captain. He followed with two years in Dallas before joining the Ducks last summer.
The Ducks have been on a spectacular run in Horcoff's absence, going 13-1-1 with an eight-game winning streak. Anaheim, which hosts Montreal on Wednesday night, also acquired forwards Jamie McGinn and Brandon Pirri at the trade deadline Monday.
"It's a good day for me, but I want the focus to be on the team," Horcoff said. "The last thing I want is to be a distraction, because everything has been so positive."