Wednesday, March 23, 2005


NHL: Paranoid about Steroids?

Really, I’m quite tired out from the Steroid talk surrounding baseball this spring.

Still, the topic has crept up recently in the world of hockey, so I’d thought I’d rant a little and say what’s on my mind about the issue.

For the most part, the NHL and hockey itself has really escaped the drug use spotlight. While baseball is facing a barrage of attacks from steroid witchhunters, two-faced media shills, and politicians with alterior motives, very few people have questioned drug use in the media.

Stephen Farber wrote about Sudafed (Hockey’s Dirty Little Secret) for Sports Illustrated, and this was a topic I further touched upon earlier this year.

There are the tragic alcohol and hard drug users such as John Kordic, Steve Chiasson, Grant Fuhr (who overcame his problems), Bob Probert, Link Gaetz, and Theoren Fleury.
Even so, drug and supplement usage/abuse has been, for the most part, well hidden from the prying eyes of the public.

Is steroid use rampant in the NHL? Is it useful to NHLers? Why don’t we hear more about it?

1. What are they good for?
Commissioner Gary Bettman, ex-Canadien David Morissette, and other hockey people have commented that steroids are only good for enforcers and for bulking up. Since hockey is a game that requires speed and endurance, gaining too much bulk can detract from one's game.

The best real-life example that I can think of (and I am speculating, since I have NO REAL PROOF) is the Canucks’ Brent Sopel.

Two seasons ago, he came into training camp at 230 pounds…he had gained an incredible 25-30 pounds over the course of a summer. There was some talk about his back acne (a symptom of steroid use) and even the best ‘natural’ bodybuilders know it’s very very hard to add 25-30 pounds of legitimate muscle mass in a span of 4 months.

Sopel’s play early that season was extremely piss poor. Sopel was brutally slow and it was obvious that the extra bulk had a very negative effect on his game. Sopel looked out of breath by the 3rd period most nights. It was only until mid-way through the season, when he shed most of that excess weight, that his game returned to ‘normal’ levels and he didn’t look like a slug.

2. “They won’t help hockey players”

To the uneducated layman, steroids are taken by big muscleheads for the pure purpose of gaining bulk. One might think popping a few pills or injecting some liquid into one’s ass would just turn you into Arnold Schwarzenegger.
That simply is not true.

The 4 main benefits from steroid use:

Items 2 and 3 on the list above would be of great importance to hockey players.
Over the course of a season, an NHL player has to slog through 82 games, countless practices, and a handful of meaningless exhibition games before they even get to the Stanley Cup Playoffs marathon.

From personal experience, I know that leg injuries and fatigued legs, especially, can take an enormous long time to heal and recover. Since hockey players are pretty much screwed if they can’t generate power from their legs, using steroids to speed recovery time would be an obvious benefit to them.

While an NHL player may not need to bulk up considerably, there would be the temptation to use whatever means necessary in order to recover from injuries and get a real energy boost.

3. “Just look at these guys!”

From first glance, it can be very hard to get an idea of a player’s physiche when they are wearing full hockey gear. Rod Brind’Amour is one of the buffest dudes in the NHL, but you wouldn’t know it from watching him play.

It’s also quite easy to laugh at the notion of ‘steroid junkie’ hockey players when many of these guys have rather lean upper bodies and small arms.
I know Wayne Gretzky had nothing more than a ‘swimmers’ build, and Jason Allison’s arms are about as thick as dry spaghetti.

The idea that only big enforcers take steroids can be easy to swallow when most NHLers don’t look very big and bulky. While Donald Brashear and Tony Twist look like they hit the heavy weights often, guys like Sergei Samsonov and Brett Hull appear as if they don’t touch a bench press more than once a week.

4. It’s not hard to hide steroids – Steroid abuse is rampant in the NFL, Track and Field, and other sports…but why don’t you hear more about it?

Because, it’s usually only the dumb ones get caught.

While Bob MacKenzie seems to think the NHL and NHLPA’s ‘new’ policy will weed out any users, why is it that the NFL rarely ever catches and punishes abusers?

Want to know how to cheat on a steroids test? Here’s a good sampling of the techniques used to avoid various tests.

There are so many different types of steroids and enhancing products out in the world, and it’s very hard to test for all of them. Even with a strict drug testing plan in place doesn’t guarantee any users will get caught.

Honestly, I’m rather more concerned with many other issues more in hockey than steroid usage. PED’s (Speed and Sudafed), Caffeine, and Alcohol abuse are, in my opinion, much more previlant and worth concerning myself about than steroids...not to mention the economic issues we know far too much about.

Extraleague Playoffs Update

Life was much more peaceful in Europe yesterday (no Roid Rage, perhaps?).

Miroslav Satan had all 3 goals in Slovan Bratislava’s 3-1 victory over Dukla Trencin. Contrary to previous reports, Marian Hossa was not healthy enough to dress and his ankle continues to give him problems.

The Liberec White Tigers fell 3-2 in overtime to the deep squad from Pardubice, while Ceske Budejovice took a 2-1 series league in the ‘Baraz’ series over Dukla Jihlava.

The Hockey Rodent, who is a big fan of Dukla Jihlava, covers those 2 games more in detail in his rant.

Honestly, I can’t wait until Jihlava is demoted again! Czech hockey fans will be thankful when this crappy franchise pollutes the Extraleague no more. While Jihlava used to be a legendary army club, the current version is rather shameful.
Their uniforms are also too damn tacky!

Speeding up recovery time is the number one reason for most athletes to take steroids. The NHL schedule is certainly grueling and being able to compete at a high level (body-wise) throughout the entire season is huge.
Great points, and a great article. I'd like to add that Sergei Samsonov is a giant little dude, though. He's 5'8", and around 185 lbs. (listed as 194 lbs on his ESPN profile).
I don't know, from experience that steroids play a big role in hockey, but it makes sense, that KIDS just drafted into the NHL from Juniors or college would be more likely take steroids to bulk up. A lot of these 18 year old's are still growing into their bodies, and in an effort to make the big leagues, they surely have to bulk up from 6'1" 170 to 6'1 190/200 lbs. I know some kids grow into their bodies faster, but you cannot deny that has to be a serious issue, considering the pressure NHL teams put on these kids to bulk up.

and I do know, and have seen with my own eyes, players taking stimulants to "get up" for games. Watching Fresno Falcon players in the WCHL do it all the time, surely, they weren't alone.

A little Late, I know.
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