Bell may not miss games

LANCE HORNBY and MIKE ZEISBERGER -- Sun Media

, Last Updated: 10:15 AM ET

Mark Bell is ready to co-operate with the National Hockey League's substance abuse program, amid expectation he won't miss any games in the regular season.

The troubled Maple Leafs forward, facing up to six months in jail after this season for an alcohol-related car accident that injured another driver in 2006 in California, has been suspended by the league and was obliged to enter Stage 2 of the joint NHL-NHLPA program. The NHL confirmed the indefinite suspension (without pay), but made no official comment.

"I'm just waiting for the doctors to call and tell me what to do," Bell said yesterday at Lakeshore Lions Arena, where the Leafs are tuning up for the start of training camp on Sept. 13. "I don't know (what he must prove to the league). I haven't talked to them.

"I'm not running away from anything. It's part of the process. I think the legal stuff took care of itself (in August), then the league took care of their thing.

"There still is a year in the program left. I just have to deal with the things that are going on in my life. I just keep moving ahead. Everyone in the Leafs organization has been supportive and great to me."

A player who is convicted of a controlled-substance offence (including under a plea arrangement or similar procedure), is assessed by the program doctors and staged appropriately. When Bell pleaded no contest to charges of driving under the influence of alcohol and hit-and-run he moved to Stage 2 and will remain so until reinstated by the program doctors, the league and the NHLPA.

The program doctors, Brian Shaw, on behalf of the PA, and David Lewis for the league, will decide in which training camp activities Bell can participate.

Leafs union rep Matt Stajan is cautiously optimistic that Bell can be in the opening-night lineup on Oct. 3 against Ottawa.

"I'm no expert, but from what I've heard, he won't miss any games," Stajan said. "That's as far as I know."

Stajan said the Leafs believe their new teammate is sincere in statements he has given up booze.

"He hasn't had a drink in a year," Stajan said. "Obviously he regrets what happened. It's up to him. But the union is there to help. He made the decision on his own to stop drinking."

Another one of the NHL's young stars was in court yesterday when Jay Bouwmeester pleaded guilty to impaired driving and was fined $1,000.

"Hopefully, I'm sure this will be the last time I see you in court," Judge Michael Allen told the Florida Panthers player in Alberta provincial court.

Bouwmeester, 23, was also banned from driving in Canada for a year.

After the guilty plea, a charge of operating a motor vehicle with a blood-alcohol level of more than .08 was withdrawn.

Bouwmeester was arrested Aug. 12, 2006, after driving erratically on Edmonton's south side around 4 a.m.

-- With files from CP


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