Pubdate: Fri, 12 Dec 2003
Source: Montreal Gazette (CN QU)
Copyright: 2003 The Gazette, a division of Southam Inc.
Author: John Meagher


Canada's top amateur scout says most junior hockey players in this country 
get high on the ecstasy of winning and not much else.

"Yes, there is drug use in junior hockey," said Hockey Canada head scout 
Blair Mackasey, "but it's not rampant."

Mackasey was commenting on published reports this week that estimated more 
than one-third of players in the Quebec Major Junior Hockey League were 
using drugs. Player-agent Gilles Lupien said the actual figure might be 
closer to 40 per cent.

"I have a lot of trouble with those figures," said Mackasey, who's been a 
junior player and coach in Quebec.

"There are no such secrets in hockey," added Mackasey, who scouts more than 
200 junior and college games across North America each year in his duties 
to assemble the top teenage talent for Canada's highly ranked amateur men's 

"If there was that big a drug problem, parents would know about it, and so, 
too, would the coaches."

While Mackasey is aware some juniors take performance-enhancing stimulants, 
he doubts the figure represents more than 10 per cent of all players.

"On a team of 20 players, there might be two guys taking something," he 
said. "And keep in mind that most of the drugs we're talking about, like 
Sudafed, are over-the-counter medications."

As for recreational drug use, such as marijuana and alcohol, Mackasey said 
it is probably no better or worse than found among society's youth at large.

"Go to any high school, and you'll probably find the same problems," he 
said. "If anything, today's junior hockey players are more careful than the 
average teenager about what they put in their bodies, including proper diet 
and nutrition."

The days of drinking beer all night long, then playing the next day are gone.

The QMJHL announced this week it plans to re-introduce drug testing in 
2004, but Mackasey also supports random testing at the pro level.

"The NHL needs to lead the way on this issue," he said. "The pros send a 
powerful message to aspiring junior players.

"Listen, you can't police these guys 24 hours a day. But what you can do is 
educate them about the short- and long-term effects of taking drugs, even 
nutritional supplements, for that matter."

Mackasey said junior players invited to Team Canada's training camp, which 
opened yesterday in Kitchener, Ont., are forewarned of the consequences of 
using banned substances at the world junior championship, which begins Dec. 
26 in Finland. There, players will be subject to random testing after each 

So far, compliance has not been an issue, Mackasey said.

"I don't ever recall anyone failing a test. For most guys at this level, 
their bodies are a temple. Besides, elite athletes cannot compete night 
after night relying on stimulants."

As for long travel routes and hectic schedules found in the QMJHL - reasons 
cited by Lupien for alleged drug use - Mackasey said these topics are 
worthy of debate within a broader discussion about hockey development.

Mackasey, who turns 48 tomorrow, noted the longest road trip of his junior 
career was a four-hour bus ride from Montreal to Chicoutimi. Back then, the 
favoured stimulant was coffee to wash down a pregame meal of chocolate bars.

"Were there some guys who did drugs or drank too much? Sure, but not many," 
Mackasey said. "Drugs were a much bigger problem at my local high school."

Mackasey urges parents to maintain close contact with their sons who move 
away to play junior hockey. Player agents also need to be vigilant. For 
example, Sidney Crosby, the 16-year-old phenom with the Rimouski Oceanic, 
speaks with his parents in Cole Harbour, N.S., almost every day.

But getting Team Canada hopefuls like Crosby fired up for the world juniors 
is the least of Mackasey's worries.

"If anything, we have to keep our boys on an even keel because they're so 
pumped to represent their country over in Finland," he said.

In other words, they prefer Helsinki to Acapulco gold.
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MAP posted-by: Keith Brilhart