UPDATE: The NHL decided to close their investigation promptly in less than 24 hours. My original title for this post, "Washington Capitals Training Facility Targeted for Steroid Investigation: What Was That About Ovechkin's 'Strength,' Boudreau?", while funny, needed updating.
Big-time, breaking news...and so now the PED story officially comes round to hockey again (the first crisis for the Capitals was almost a year ago). Really, though, this shouldn't be news to us: remember Sean Hill, or Bryan Berard? In other words, we've seen the signs bubbling beneath the surface. We've seen the pictures of hockey bodies ripped out of their minds.
I will not implicate anyone until there's evidence. But let me tell you a story.
I worked as a Zamboni driver in Wisconsin for 5 years. While there, there was a whole host of hockey activity, including youth hockey, Division III college hockey, high school hockey, and junior hockey. I knew a lot of the players that came through there at every level, and chatted them up regularly (what are you gonna do when you only work 10-20 minutes on the hour?).
One day, one of the Midget AAA (high-school-aged junior hockey) players came into my break room looking for some water, a glass, and a spoon. I found them all, and he broke out an enormous jug of creatine product and made himself a glass. He told me that about 2/3 of his teammates did the same. The kid was 15 years old and skinny as a rail, as were most of his fellow players. He said that they use the stuff all of the time, and that they needed it to gain the edge for the next level.
These are kids barely out of middle school, experimenting with this stuff with the knowledge that a.) they need a boost if they're going to get to the top, and b.) there are things that can get you there, fast. In the case of this Midget AAA team, these guys are one step away from getting a tryout for USHL teams, which in turn are prime plucking-grounds for the NHL draft.
I saw guys use it in high school, I've seen junior players use it, and the point is that the spirit of the use of PED's is there. All you need is a supply.
It kills me to write this because I remember what hockey was (and is) for me. But if we can wade into this pool and get the truth, the NHL cannot waffle like MLB has for so many years. We need to break the back of the PED culture, and protect the sanctity of this game.
I'm optimistic, I know. The NHL stands to lose a lot (hell, maybe everything) over this. But if Gary Bettman could ever prove his worth, it would be in approaching this issue in a different (and less impotent) manner than any of the other leagues.
The last thing I want to say is this: when players get stronger, the physical game intensifies. I love a good physical game as much as anyone, but physical hockey can be destroyed by this. Players could be getting injured right now solely because of other players' illegally increased muscle mass. Nevermind the number of players that could be hurting themselves or the longevity of their career by such use. This is a player safety issue, as well, and we shouldn't lose sight of that.
P.S. And for Chrissakes do not tell me in the comments that it's not a problem. Because it sure sounds like it is here, here, here, and here.