Bell has ally in Perrott

MIKE ZEISBERGER, SUN MEDIA

, Last Updated: 7:55 AM ET

If Maple Leaf froward Mark Bell ever needs a sympathetic ear during his seemingly never-ending battle against booze, Nathan Perrott is there for him.

Having been in Bell's shoes himself, Perrott knows all too well how difficult this fight can be.

Back in 2002, the gritty forward opted to boot away the demonic bottle after years of life as an alcoholic and entered the NHL's Substance Abuse and Behavioural Health Program, run jointly with the NHL players association.

Now, five full years later, Perrott is encouraged by the similar efforts to enjoy an alcohol-free life being made by Bell, a kid he has known for more than a decade.

"He has handled it well," said Perrott, who is slated to play for the AHL Marlies this season. "It makes me happy to see him do well and learn from his mistakes."

Bell entered the NHL's recovery program last year after driving drunk, being involved in a hit-and-run and leaving the scene of an accident in San Jose. By pleaded no contest to the ensuing charges, he moved into Stage 2 of the program and was suspended indefinitely without pay by the league, although there is hope that he will not miss any regular-season games.

More importantly, Bell claims he has not had a drink in a year, something Perrott knows is no easy task.

"It's difficult to stop drinking when it has been part of your life," Perrott said. "It's hard to explain. It's everywhere around you.

"I never had a DUI like Mark but I was still making decisions while under the influence that were self-destructive. Mark made a mistake, he's paying for it now, and he learned from it."

Perrott warns the walk away from liquor can be a slippery slope indeed.

"I'm not going to get specific but I had a couple of slips along the way," he said.

"Fortunately, I can say right now that I am on my longest run of going without a drink since I made the decision to change my life.

"I was at an NHL alumni dinner the other night, the booze was flowing around, and do you know what? Not once did I want a drink. It made me feel good to be comfortable to be in an environment like that."

As a kid, Bell, a native of St. Paul's, Ont., used to go to nearby St. Mary's and watch Perrott's Junior B team play. Years later, the two were reunited in Norfolk, Va., where they were teammates with the American Hockey League's Admirals.

"He's a great guy and he has been doing great in handling a difficult situation," Perrott said. "It's great to see how much all the guys are supporting him."


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