Hill suspended for violating drug policy

LANCE HORNBY

, Last Updated: 7:15 AM ET

BUFFALO -- If the New York Islanders could manufacture wins like they make headlines, they'd be Stanley Cup champions.

The team that fired its new general manager before the season began, made a blockbuster deadline trade for Ryan Smyth, was spotlighted for player violence and made a miracle playoff run, is now dealing with a performance enhancing substance suspension.

Defenceman Sean Hill received 20 games from the National Hockey League yesterday on the eve of his team's Game 5 elimination by the Buffalo Sabres. The 36-year-old Minnesotan was informed yesterday morning, though unknown to many teammates, he played the first four games of the series under appeal for flunking a regular season test, likely for steroid use.

Hill, who signed to a one-year deal for $600,000 US in the summer, addressed the team after yesterday's optional morning skate, in which he didn't participate, then flew back to Long Island with no comment.

"The New York Islanders do not support the use of performing enhancing agents in any form," GM Garth Snow said in a prepared statement before the game. "We support (NHL commissioner Gary Bettman's) decision."

The suspension is accompanied by mandatory referral to the NHL/NHLPA Program for Substance Abuse and Behavioural Health. If the Isles are eliminated, Hill must serve the balance of the suspension in 2007-08, with the Isles or any new team.

A joint NHL/NHLPA committee put in a new policy after the lockout that calls for 20 games for a first offence, 60 for a second and permanent suspension for a third, with a chance for case review. Hill is the first player snared by the new policy, with fellow NHLers Jose Theodore, Bryan Berard and Mattias Ohlund running afoul of testing prior to the new system.

Players are now subject to two no-notice tests by a Laval, Que., lab per year from training camp through regular season. The league has steadfastly denied charges by drug crusaders such as Dick Pound that a rampant problem exists.

Islanders players would not comment on the Hill suspension, while the news reached the Sabres dressing room just before the game.

"It's a shock ... I feel bad for him," Buffalo defenceman Brian Campbell said. "Our team were tested twice. It's not a nice feeling. They put you in a room, you pee in a bottle and hope there's enough there, that you put up the (right) numbers and don't have to repeat.

"We get all the (vitamin) supplements checked out, but you never know. Someone could put something in your drink at a bar. I think Ohlund was only using eye drops.

"But I don't think (performance enhancing drugs) are too widespread. If you asked 20 guys in our room to take off their shirts, you'd know."


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