The National Hockey League does it. College hockey does it. The International Olympic Committee is famous for it. So why is mandatory drug testing all but the forbidden subject for junior programs across the continent?
The NCAA spends an incredible amount of time and resources to keep athletic programs in compliance with their drug policy. Many states also have implemented mandatory testing programs for their high school athletes. A glaring hole, within hockey's developmental system, is the lack of a drug testing policy at the junior level of play.
A source within one NCAA Div I program proclaims the issue to be more serious than expected. "The junior programs really don't want to know, avoiding the issue all together is just their way of not wanting to admit there could be a problem," the source commented. "Boys will be boys, you pile eight to ten players into a unsupervised house and they are going to test the limits, casual drug use is common in a lot of these situations."
What league is going to step out on a wire and be the first to proclaim they only showcase players that are clinically proven to be drug free?
"Legally, I don't know what the ramifications would be from such a program," said Western States Hockey League Commissioner Ron White. "I think the initiative would have to come from a governing body like USA Hockey, AAU, or even the United States Olympic Committee. Those guys have the budgets to be able to defend the policy against a lawsuit." White added.
It may just take a grassroots movement to get that ball rolling. Would the players, or their parents, be in support of the program? 90% of the players and parents would support such a measure. In reality, I feel that most parents would be more inclined to send their young prospects to a program that is clinically proven to be drug-free.
"I think some of the leagues already do something, the problem is that many players are still minors, and that causes some problems," says former USA Hockey Junior Council chairman Dan Esdale. "The way that society has changed, I am afraid that maybe something like a drug testing program may be needed, and I wouldn't be opposed to it," Esdale added.
There are some teams that have moved forward with their own testing programs and have taken measures to have the right to impose testing programs for their teams.
An NAHL team owner was once forced to deal with a problem within his own program. "The billet parents informed us of a situation with a player. Dealing with that was the toughest decision I had to make as a team owner. Do I cut the player or do I give him the motivation and resources to help him get clean?" We made a choice to help him and he got better."
Junior hockey needs to get with the program. If high school and college players are being tested, why in the heck are junior players not?
New York Aviators' head coach Mike Stanaway has an interesting position on the subject. "I am in favor of drug testing players. As a coaching staff, we want to see our players make the right choices both for their personal success and collectively as a team. With that being said, we cannot be around the players 100% of the time. I feel that when players know they are subject to drug testing, they will consider the consequences of their actions more seriously. Players at this level are at a very influential age and if testing helps keep them on the right path, then I am all for it."
Higher level leagues should be taking the lead by implementing their own mandatory testing programs. Doing so would go a long ways towards the rest of junior hockey following that example.
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