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"All Geeked-Up for the Deadline..."
Newtown Square, PA • United States • 45 Years Old • Male

Mark McGwire

Jose Canseco

Barry Bonds

Roger Clemens

Andy Pettitte

Marion Jones

Floyd Landis

Chris Benoit

Bill Romanowski

Lyle Alzado...

The list goes on and on. Allegations of performance enhancing drug* use by professional athletes seems to be as common an occurrence on our nightly news as reports of crude oil hitting yet another record high.

In this age of seaside laboratories with catchy acronyms, designer drugs branded, marketed and sold with the zeal and skill of a global conglomerate and the tacit approval from rap stars to the Hollywood elite to professional athletes - names like stanazonol, HGH and "the Clear" now seem to share the glaring spotlight of stardom as much as those who use them.

Contrary to all the scientific fact detailing the horrors that some of these performance enhancing drugs can inflict on the human body, athletes are lining up to try the newest offerings from the likes of BALCO promising better, faster and stronger. The stakes are high and the risks great, yet the potential for a younger player to make the show, a marginal player to stay there or an aging vet to make it one more season seems to be a greater sirens' call than any of us might imagine.

Being the astute readers you are, you must have noticed that the first five names listed were those of Major League Baseball players. The recent report and hearings on performance enhancing drugs in Major League Baseball, conducted by Senator George Mitchell, that brought about the Clemens vs McNamee catfight which played out before the House Committee on Oversight and Government Reform for the entire world to witness, was just the latest in a parade of allegations of rampant steroid use in baseball. While baseball has stood alone under the white hot spotlight of media and governmental scrutiny, they are - by no means - alone in their association with and alleged use of performance enhancing drugs in their sport.

As you also noticed, the remaining names on my list were spread amongst track and field, cycling, wrestling and football. There were many more from which to choose and, sadly enough, the list will continue to grow with household names currently suiting up for our favorite teams. There were two major sports not accounted for by the above list - basketball and hockey - and there might be some sense in it. In both sports, the emphasis is on quick, fluid movements that often change direction and rely on deceptiveness and skill rather than just blowing over someone, trying to gain an additional three miles per hour on a fastball or knocking the snot out of a pitched ball. Hockey and Basketball (ban) have long seasons (not conducive to steroid related wear and tear on the body), require frequent shifts with huge physical exertion in a small time frame (where sprinting and banging into other large men in the paint or on skates would seem to be counterproductive to knee and joint health thus dramatically shortening a playing career) and are based not only on strength, but also on speed, evasiveness and pinpoint timing (where the goal of being bigger is not necessarily better).

Does that mean that hockey is immune to the very real human temptation to compete at a high level and win no matter what the cost? Of course not. Does it mean that hockey is full of designer drug injecting, HGH and testosterone-fueled freaks of nature? Nope. The truth is that performance enhancing drugs are very likely a crutch for marginal players that might be on their way out due to Darwinian survival of the fittest, young bucks who think that being bigger and stronger might give them an edge to make a squad or the aging veteran whose body is battered and needs to heal faster or lose his job or simply just wants one more shot at staying in the league. Whatever the reason, it is more than likely that the number of players using these substances is vastly smaller than in football or baseball. The reality is that the end result of a steroid-induced body does not fit with the requirements of the new NHL, where speed kills. To their credit, the most recent CBA has adopted a strict Performance Enhancing Substances Program where players are subject to up to two random, no notice drug tests during the season for those substances. The punishments are severe - with a 20 game suspension for the first infraction, 60 for a second and a lifetime ban on the third misstep. Now if the CBA would only take the matter of other drugs more seriously...the real elephant in the corner that no one wants to talk about.

Nope...the elephant in the corner of the NHL is not the performance enhancing, designer drugs splashed across media outlets but an old friend to many NHL locker rooms - stimulants, Sudies, Ripped Fuel. Call it what you want, the culprit is the same - pseudoephedrine. This legal, over the counter nasal decongestant continues to be as much a part of the pregame routine as which sock goes on first or whether the rose goes in front.

Former Montreal Canadien defenceman, Stephane Quintal, said "he believes 40 per cent of the players he's encountered have used stimulants." Another anecdotal story comes from former athletic trainer for the Detroit Red Wings, John Wharton, who recalled when he started with the team in 1991 that Sudafed sat on a table in the dressing room "like a bowl of fruit." He put a stop that practice immediately. I would hazard a guess that bottles of Sudafed could still be found in most dressing rooms whose use has nothing, whatsoever, to do with stuffy noses. There has been a move towards naturally occurring forms of ephedrine (since it was banned as a suppliment in 2004), such as the Chinese herb Ma-Huang, that can be found in products like "Ripped Fuel". These caffeine-pseudoephedrine mixes have many of the same end results as their amphetamine-like sisters - stimulate the brain, increase heart rate and blood pressure, and greatly reduced fatigue levels over short, high intensity activity (like a first period shift after flying from Vancouver to Montreal on back to back nights).

While the emphasis on steroids and HGH abuse by the NHL is laudable, it can be said that the NHLPA has fought tooth and nail over the past 20 years to keep the testing of stimulants off the table. It appears that the NHL and NHLPA want to create their own list of what is prohibited without having to conform to any outside protocol like the one created by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA). The NHLPA has gone as far as to say that the stringent code demanded by the WADA is "inappropriate for our league." Whether this is a blatant attempt to keep the camel's nose from getting under the tent on this issue or just the "circle the wagons" mentality that pervades the NHL players union on issues where scrutiny is not welcomed, the end result is clear - the use of stimulants will not be forced out of the game.

Is a player using a stimulant to get up for a game on par with someone abusing anabolic steroids?

No, but as long as stimulants are given tacit approval by the league and the union, they will continue to be the elephant in the corner that no one wants to talk about. Former Wings trainer, John Wharton, went on to say, "[t]here are some guys who have been able to tolerate [large doses of pseudoephedrine]. The most I've seen a player take is eight pills. That dose would put some people in the hospital."

The NHLPA fighting for the "right" to play outside the bounds of good sportsmanship, where skill and desire may not carry the day, is troubling given the purported frequency of use of stimulants by its members. The omission of stimulant testing from the overall drug policy of the league seems to run counter to the goals of fair play, sportsmanship and respect for the game and hockey is poorer for it.

Thanks for reading...


(*edit - thanks SZ*) - the word is druGs not druMs, though performance enchancing drums would be really cool and much healthier.
Filed Under:   Drugs in hockey   HGH   SYF   Steroids   NHL  
July 23, 2008 1:09 AM ET | Delete
This is the best article that I have ever read on this site, bar none and you wrote my previous favorite too! Keep up the great work! I love the fact that your articles delve into unexpected subjects as opposed to the canned crap around here, that so called bigger name writers, copy and paste to us. A friend of mine, who works in a major hockey arena, described to me, that he had never seen such a huge mountain of RedBulls and RockStars, as he does after an NHL game. It's amazing these guys can even hold still on the bench.He described talking to a player after a game as difficult, due to the fact that the players are so amped up.
July 23, 2008 5:40 AM ET | Delete
i think there was one player that tested positive for steroids in the nhl he played for nashville then was suspended by the league and went overseas. a couple years later he was arrested for drug trafficking.
July 23, 2008 9:18 AM ET | Delete
SYF nice job as always. I do have to bust your chops a little though since you never provide any us ammo. I thought the opening line "performance enhancing drums" was classic. Who knew Tama, DW, Pearl, and Yamaha were so crooked hahaha. When are you getting on the front page? Good job SYF. - SZ
July 23, 2008 9:51 AM ET | Delete
July 23, 2008 12:37 PM ET | Delete
not really sure what he took but sean hill was suspended for like 20 games 2 seasons ago missed a playoff game then got signed as an UFA and returned after serving the remainder of his suspension
July 23, 2008 1:40 PM ET | Delete
hill took the anabolic steroid boldenone http://www.thestar.com/Sports/article/233275
July 23, 2008 2:26 PM ET | Delete
Sudafed and other OTC stimulants have been in use at the youth level for years also. I regularly took Sudafed in the late 1990's playing midget and high school hockey. Believe it or not, my mother (a licensed physical therapy assistant and massage therapist) first gave me a natural herbal stimulant containing pseudoephedrine when I was about 14 to help with recovery during games. A lot of other players were taking caffeine pills like No Doz in locker rooms, and I knew a few guys who were using illegal "stuff" for the same effect. I imagine this is still a prevalent practice. In defense of the coaches, most of them didn't know anything about it.
July 23, 2008 3:44 PM ET | Delete
Your knowledge of steroids is very flawed. Try reading a book like "Ananbolics 2007" if you wish to make a real point on steroid use and sports like hockey and basketball. It is proven that all anabolic steroids increase red blood cell count to a point. Some, such as Equipoise, increase red blood cell count dramatically. This is extermely beneficial to any athlete that requires exceptional muscular and cardiovacular endurance. Hmmmm, don't hocky players come to mind on that one.The sad fact is that uneducated people believe that steroids are used to bulk up mass amounts of muscle. This is not their only effect. They can be used to retian muscle mass while cutting bodyfat, increase muscular and cardiovascular endurance, give you a competitve edge and give an athlete that extra split second to make a toe drag around a defenceman or quick step into the lane to get around a defender for a strong finish. Not to mention quicker healing time for muscles after a hard workout. Or the increased protein synthesis for better uptake of protein into muscles.Either way, your view of steoids is flawed like most of the general public. I suggest doing some research and drawing your own conclusions. Rather than rehashing the bs thrown out my guys like Kypreos and Healey who are trying to use their media positions to draw the spotlight away from hockey. Oh, and you left out Brian Berard, who fully admitted to using steroids during the lockout.Anyways, not a personal attack here. Just getting sick of hearing that hockey players have no use for juice. Cause in the end, it can help anybody gain a competitive edge. Its just which compunds they use and how they employ their usage.
July 23, 2008 7:18 PM ET | Delete
BigE - It sounds like you have a wealth of knowledge on the subject. Since you are not fond of my opinions, yet you thought enough to take the time to write, I would suggest to you that you write a blog pointing out your thoughts so that all of the HB readers might get a chance to listen to your opinion. Your expertise on the subject would be most welcomed and I am sure there are folks who would love to leave comments. Please go ahead and write. Thanks for taking the time to leave a comment. SYF
July 23, 2008 9:21 PM ET | Delete
right on... Great blog.
July 24, 2008 10:50 AM ET | Delete
I want to say first, Thanks for the thought provoking blog, it is a nice change around here.Anyhow,I would be amazed if there aren't as many NHLers using steriods to some degree. The schedule and level of play alone could easily sway one to take a easy fix. I look at hockey players and see the abuse they take on average of 3 times a week for months on end and can't believe they can mantain that level without some er,,, help. Of course, this is just my 2 cents.
July 24, 2008 2:15 PM ET | Delete
Good Blog. I would suggest that steroids are in use in the the NHL as are numerous other types of drugs. The NHL has long tried to create a perception that some how the sport is different. Its all blarney.
July 24, 2008 3:17 PM ET | Delete
Sabata - perhaps so, however, the penalty for using steroids is pretty hefty at 20 games. With the two allowed random, no notice drug tests - it is a huge gamble.
July 24, 2008 10:05 PM ET | Delete
Thought provoking blog SYF, along with the comments. My question is a simple one. Where, in regards to all pro sports, does this all end? Are the leagues and players going to curtail and control the use of performance enhancing compounds or will they give in and embrace the same? Where do you draw the line? Identification of specific compounds? Genetic alterations? Eugenics? While I personally loathe the use of any type of performance enhancing drugs, I still have trouble seeing it as simple black or white (at least from a regulatory and classification standpoint).
July 25, 2008 8:48 AM ET | Delete
Caffeine is a stimulant, shall we outlaw that also? Since Sudafed is legal, how do you ban a legal substance? Personally, I think the most serious drug in sports - and I mean all sports - is alcohol. It does the most long-term damage and shortens more careers than all other drugs collectively.
July 25, 2008 10:22 AM ET | Delete
Geo - you raise a good point, but coffee or caffeine is not abused in NHL locker rooms - pseudoephedrine is and fairly routinely from all accounts. Caffeine overdoses cannot put you in the hospital, ephedra-based stimulants can. Pseudoephedrine abuse is something not limited to the NHL, it is rampant throughout all of hockey - from bantam all the way up through the NHL. The issue of stimulant use is one that, if not addressed by the NHL, will continue throughout the lower levels of hockey. I wonder if the use of stimulants and the edginess and over-emotionalism it fosters has any connection to the recent league-wide concern over the stickwork that has been so prevalent in recent years. All I am saying is that stimulant use by the NHL has to be addressed if they have any hope of their drug policy to have a shred of credibility. If they were not worried about it, then why the conscious decision to NOT adopt the strict WADA protocols on drug use in sports...it makes me wonder. I am not looking for a grassy knoll here, the reports of players being amped up from a pre-game routine of popping Sudies is too well documented and well known throughout the game. I am just saying that unless they begin to take it seriously, that the game will be the poorer for it. Thanks for commenting...SYF
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