Austin Watson returns to Predators after serving suspension for domestic violence

Austin Watson has served his 18-game suspension for domestic violence and will be eligible to return to the Predators’ lineup Thursday versus the Coyotes.

Watson, Nashville’s right winger, initially received a 27-game suspension from NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, but it was later reduced to 18 games by a neutral arbitrator in October. On Wednesday, he was reinstated to the team’s roster.

“I would like to thank my family, friends and the Nashville Predators for their continued support during this difficult time,” Watson said in a statement, released through the NHLPA. “It is a privilege to play in the National Hockey League, and I am grateful to be able to once again compete with my teammates.

“I want to apologize to Jennifer, my family, Jennifer’s family, my teammates, the Nashville community and the Nashville Predators for the negative attention that has come from the events of June 16th. Out of respect for my family’s health, well-being, and privacy, I will have no further comment on this matter moving forward.”

The NHL is the only major sports league with no written domestic violence policy. It looks at each situation on a case-by-case basis. But, the league was vocal when it came to its disappointment in the arbitrator’s October decision to shorten Watson’s suspension.

The Predators released their own statement after Watson served his suspension, saying they “continue to support Austin, Jennifer and their baby as they take the necessary steps to move forward as a family” and said they will also have no further comment, according to the Tennessean.

The incident, in which Watson pleaded no contest to a misdemeanor charge of domestic assault, involved his girlfriend, who a witness saw Watson “swat” outside of a gas station. After the witness saw the two fighting, they flagged down a police officer passing by. Watson’s girlfriend, Jenn Guardino, initially denied Watson had touched her. But, later in the interview with the officer, she said Watson was responsible for causing scratches on her chest, according to a seperate report from the Tennessean.

The Tennessean also stated Guardino told police that “sometimes he gets handsy,” and that she “urged police not to say anything because it could hurt his career.”

A month after the news of the dispute broke, Guardino, released her own statement saying her “behavior and state of intoxication” led to his arrest and the June incident “was not an act of domestic violence.”