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Vegas Golden Knights defenseman Nate Schmidt has been suspended for the first 20 games of the season for violating the NHL’s policy on performance-enhancing drugs, but the team and the player are disputing that he cheated.

Schmidt is permitted to take part in training camp but will not be allowed to dress or play in any preseason games.

He also will be referred to the NHL/NHLPA program for substance abuse and behavior health to be evaluated and possibly receive treatment.

The Golden Knights said in a statement that they “strongly disagree with the suspension.”

“We firmly believe that the presence of a trace of the banned substance was accidental and unintentional,” the statement said. “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.

“Nate is an honest person with high moral character and great integrity. We will stand by him and support him during this time.”

Schmidt, 27, had 5 goals and 31 assists in 76 games for Vegas last season. He had a plus-minus rating of 19. In the playoffs he had three goals and four assists and a plus-minus of seven in 20 games as the Golden Knights advanced to the Stanley Cup Final.

Schmidt issued a lengthy statement through the players’ union.

“Throughout my playing career I have been tested numerous times, including twice last season, and I have never before tested positive,” he said. “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.”

He said that one expert claimed that the amount of the substance was the equivalent of a pinch of salt in an Olympic-size swimming pool.

“While I support having a strong Performance Enhancing Substances Program in place for our sport, it is difficult to accept this suspension,” he added. “I understand that I will miss these games, but I do not agree with the suspension and I will not accept being labelled a cheater.”

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