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Watson’s girlfriend says June incident not abuse

The girlfriend of suspended Nashville Predators forward Austin Watson released a statement on Saturday claiming the incident that occurred between the two “was not an act of domestic violence.”

Watson pleaded no contest in July to a domestic violence charge. Watson initially received a 27-game suspension from NHL commissioner Gary Bettman, though it was reduced to 18 games by a neutral arbitrator last week.

On June 16, a witness flagged down a police officer to a gas station in Franklin, Tennessee, where Watson and his girlfriend, Jenn Guardino, were in a parked car. Watson told police he and Guardino were arguing and that he pushed her. Officers said they found red marks on her chest, and she said Watson caused them.

In her statement, Guardino wrote, “Watson has never, and would never hit or abuse me. My behavior and state of intoxication led to the police being involved that day.”

Guardino also said she has “struggled with alcoholism for many years” and is actively involved in Alcoholics Anonymous.

“I am fortunate to have Austin’s continued support with my treatment,” Guardino wrote. “We handled matters poorly on June 16th and know that we need to make better decisions going forward. I take full responsibility for my actions on that day.”

Guardino also apologized to “everyone involved for the negative attention that followed this incident, including the Nashville Predators community and the city of Nashville.”

A Predators spokesperson said the team was aware Guardino was going to release a statement on Saturday.

The statement comes a day after the NHL released its own statement, saying it was disappointed with the arbitrator’s decision to reduce Watson’s suspension.

“We firmly believe that the right of appeal to an arbitrator of League discipline was never intended to substitute the arbitrator’s judgment for that of the Commissioner, particularly on matters of important League policy and the articulation of acceptable standards of conduct for individuals involved in the National Hockey League,” the statement read.

The NHL doesn’t have a written domestic violence policy and evaluates each situation on a case-by-case basis.

The 26-year-old Watson is a former first-round draft pick and has played his entire career with the Predators. He is now eligible to return on Nov. 15 when the Predators visit the Arizona Coyotes.

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