<
>

Bell suspended 15 games following no-contest plea

NEW YORK -- Toronto Maple Leafs forward Mark Bell was
suspended for 15 games without pay Wednesday by the NHL after his
plea last month of no contest to drunken driving and hit-and-run
charges.

"Playing in the National Hockey League is a privilege, and with
that privilege comes a corresponding responsibility for exemplary
conduct off the ice as well as on it," commissioner Gary Bettman
said.

"Yeah I think the length of the suspension was a surprise,"
Bell said at the Air Canada Centre in Toronto after the
announcement. "I haven't been in contact with the league until
about 48 hours ago, but I respect the decision the commissioner
made and I look forward to moving on in a positive manner -- as I
have been for the last year."

Bell is in Stage 2 of the NHL's substance abuse program. He was
suspended indefinitely Sept. 4, and the suspension will start once
he's cleared to return by the program's doctors. The doctors also
will determine what, if any, activities Bell can participate in
when Toronto opens training camp Thursday.

"The NHLPA sees no basis for the excessive suspension Gary
Bettman has imposed upon Mark Bell," said Ian Penny, the NHL
Players' Association's associate counsel.

"Mark has fully accepted the serious consequences of his
actions. He faces incarceration at the conclusion of the season and
has already been suspended without pay as a result of his placement
in Stage 2. ... There is no legitimate purpose served by adding a
substantial league disciplinary suspension to the severe sanctions
that have already been imposed. We are currently reviewing all of
our legal options with respect to this matter."

Bell was arrested in September 2006 after his sedan rear-ended a
pickup truck in Milpitas, Calif., in the San Jose foothills.

Bell is expected to serve six months in a California jail,
beginning after this season. Santa Clara County prosecutor Cindy
Seeley Hendrickson said Bell could complete the sentence over the
next two offseasons under the agreement, which has yet to be
entered in court.

The Maple Leafs acquired Bell in June along with goalie Vesa Toskala in a trade with the San Jose Sharks.

"I'm going to continue to get in the best shape of my life,"
Bell said. "I'm not just going to sit around. This is time that I
will use to become a better hockey player. I want to show all Maple
Leaf fans and the whole league what kind of player that I am."