Saturday, November 26, 2005

There was invective and anger around the National Hockey League on Friday, but it wasn't being directed at ownership, NHLPA head Ted Saskin or NHL poobah Gary Bettman. No, a man with no ties to the NHL with squarely in the crosshairs.

Dick Pound, the chairman of the World Anti-Doping Agency, said in a recent interview with the London Free Press that he told Bettman as many as one-third of the NHL's players were using performance-enhancing drugs. That would work out to around 230 of the league's 700 players.

Now, as easy as it might seem to dismiss the intelligence of someone whose parents actually named him Dick Pound, there are issues here worth discussing. Pound is no rookie when it comes to dealing with banned substances, and while he's known as a grandstander at times, he can't be immediately discredited by the words of such NHL beacons of discourse as Todd Bertuzzi and Tie Domi.

"Who's Dick Pound?" Bertuzzi said Friday in a newspaper report. "Tell him to come in our dressing room with our shirts off and we'll see how performance-enhanced we are. Tell him he can come hang out with me and see my workout. Trust me, we're not."

And therein lies the problem. In our post-BALCO world, we read "performance-enhancing" and we immediately think, "Oh, he means 'steroids'." And maybe he does, to some extent.

But in the world of Dick Pound and WADA, "performance-enhancing" also means popping a couple Sudafed before the game to get up. This practice isn't a big secret among players or management -- former NHLer and current TSN commentator Nick Kypreos apparently talked about it on-air on Toronto's FAN 590 last year.

And the same station's Mike Hogan interviewed Justin Williams of the Carolina Hurricanes Friday morning. Williams said he didn't know of anyone taking steroids, but when Hogan asked about taking amphetamines and slugging back pots of coffee, Williams would only say he didn't use that method, and that players got up for games in different ways.

In fact, Sports Illustrated did a huge story on the use of Sudafed in the NHL way back in 1998. It described Montreal goaltender Andy Moog's use of the drug, and here's a direct quote from the story:

"There are all kinds of overdose stories—guys not being able to finish the first period because they get the shakes, paranoia, anxiety," says Detroit Red Wings athletic trainer John Wharton, who's been with the club since February 1991. "There 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."

See, Pound and the WADA will be overseeing the drug testing at the 2006 Winter Games in Turin. And while the NHL apparently doesn't consider players scarfing Sudies a problem, WADA will. Amphetamines are on the agency's banned substance list.

It's also not a stretch to think Pound would like either to see WADA's list imposed on the NHL during its upcoming hearings with the U.S. Congress, or for WADA to be put in charge of drug oversight of all five major sports (sorry, but I count NASCAR).

So it all depends on what you consider cheating. Dick Pound and WADA consider spending the pre-game hour packing in the cold medicine and Folger's to be doping. The NHL doesn't.

But if players consider the practice to be a way to ramp themselves up for a contest that sitting around and focusing on the game won't, a way to gain an artificial edge -- well, what's not cheating about that?

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