NHL says steroid use isn't a problem among hockey players

TORONTO -- With baseball still buzzing about the Mitchell Report, the NHL asserted Friday that widespread use of performance-enhancing drugs is not an issue among hockey players.

"I don't think we've ever had the same problem," NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly told The Canadian Press. "Hockey players have been tested for many years in international play. It's simply not part of their culture. And we have tested NHL players up to three times a year since January 2006 and obviously have not had many issues other than one failed test."

Defenseman Sean Hill of the Minnesota Wild is the only player who has violated the NHL's anti-doping policy. He was hit with a 20-game suspension last spring while playing for the New York Islanders. The Wild said Hill acknowledged using a doctor-prescribed testosterone booster approved by the NHL, but he tested positive for the banned anabolic steroid boldenone.

In a report issued Thursday by former Senate Majority Leader George Mitchell, 85 major-league baseball players were linked to steroids and other performance-enhancing drugs.

The NHL Players' Association says its testing program works.

"The NHLPA and the NHL have a performance-enhancing substance policy in place that includes an effective education, testing and discipline regimen," NHLPA spokesman Jonathan Weatherdon said. "We continue to review the program to ensure that performance-enhancing substances do not become a problem in our sport."

Daly doesn't think hockey needs something similar to Mitchell's probe.

"There is no need for an independent inquiry in our sport," he said. "We have more historical evidence than baseball did that performance-enhancing drugs have never been a material part of our culture. We are comfortable with our existing program and are always looking for ways to improve it.

"We need to be vigilant in making sure it's state of the art and is doing everything we can possibly be doing to achieve the objective of ensuring the sport is clean," he said.

The NHL's anti-doping policy has repeatedly been called into question by Montreal lawyer Dick Pound, the former chairman of the World Anti-Doping Agency. He has said the policy is "very seriously flawed" and made headlines in November 2005 when he estimated that one-third of NHL players were likely taking performance-enhancing substances -- mainly stimulants.

Players as well as league and union officials denied Pound's claims.

Pound did not immediately return a phone call Friday.

The NHL does not test for the drugs on WADA's list of banned substances that are prohibited only during competition, such as stimulants. Certain cold remedies that contain stimulants, such as ephedrine, are suspected to be used by some hockey players.

Islanders defenseman Bryan Berard and Colorado Avalanche goalie Jose Theodore both failed out-of-competition tests administered by their respective national anti-doping organizations in November 2005, but neither was suspended by the league because the failed tests happened before the NHL established its new policy.