SUN Hockey Pool

Drug testing on way, whenever NHL is

MIKE ULMER -- Toronto Sun

, Last Updated: 8:49 AM ET

When the NHL comes back, it will return with drug testing.

NHL president Gary Bettman and NHLPA head Bob Goodenow were scheduled to appear before Congress on Thursday to bring U.S. politicos up to speed on the drug question in hockey. The testimony was scuttled because of scheduling issues, but when and if Bettman and Goodenow speak, they will endorse the idea of a drug-testing policy.

"In future discussions with the league, we don't believe that there will be a difficulty in reaching a consensus on the issue of testing NHLPA members," NHLPA senior director Ted Saskin reaffirmed via e-mail.

"It will be bargained," NHL spokesman Frank Brown said. "It's on the to-do list."

Currently the NHL does not test players for drugs. The league has been exceptionally lucky.

Unlike baseball, the game hasn't been devalued by players such as Barry Bonds and Mark McGwire, who the public assumes used steroids to obliterate long-held records. There have been no incidents such as the 2003 death by heatstroke of Baltimore Orioles pitcher Steve Bechler, attributed to the use of the stimulant ephedra.

But there have been rumblings on the matter.

Colorado Avalanche star Teemu Selanne tied possible drug use into the spate of on-ice violence that climaxed with Todd Bertuzzi's attack on Steve Moore last March.

"The guys are so fired up. I don't know if they're taking Sudies (Sudafed) or ephedrine or whatever, but guys are not thinking clearly and if that's the case, we've got to fix that problem," Selanne said.

In his biography, minor league tough guy Dave Morissette said he began taking steroids shortly after he was drafted in 1991. He used stimulants such as Sudafed and a mix of caffeine and ephedrine called Ripped Fuel while playing junior.

Morissette alleged steroids and stimulants were widely used in the NHL.

In 1996, the league and its union agreed to what amounted to an employee assistance program with a few teeth for enforcement. That covers alcohol abuse and illegal drugs. The treatment could be triggered by a substance-related arrest.

Stage 1 meant in-patient treatment.

When Kevin Stevens, then of the New York Rangers, was arrested during a cocaine binge in 2000, he was admitted to the program and permitted to return to the ice two months later.

New Jersey Devils defenceman Ken Daneyko left the team for three months in 1998 for treatment of alcoholism.

Stage 2 is a suspension without pay and then reinstatement.

A third offence carries suspension without pay for six months and then reinstatement.

Theoren Fleury, for whom the word troubled was invented, is the only player to incur Stage 3 discipline. Fleury first entered a substance abuse program in 2000-01 with the Rangers. He missed another 25 games for violating his aftercare and then incurred a third suspension as a member of the Chicago Blackhawks. Fleury has not applied for reinstatement.

"That's not a program. It's a punishment," Fleury said of the NHL program. "They punish you for having a disease (alcoholism) that's incurable."

That argument is for another day.

The first step in addressing the chronic lack of respect that players continually cite is to make sure everyone plays the game straight. Glad to see the league and players are, for once, on the same page.


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