John Kordic

Steroid Rage

by Thomas McPherson

John Kordic.

It isn’t a name that will ring a bell in the memory of the average hockey fan. Kordic was known more for his fisticuffs than anything else he did on the ice in a professional career that spanned six years and four NHL teams. He was nothing more than a goon, a malcontent who did nothing to distinguish himself on the ice, but unfortunately did much to distinguish himself off of it. John Kordic met his end on August 8th, 1992, a battered and bloodied mess, handcuffed and surrounded by police officers, his death the result of the alcohol and drugs that fueled his rage and the steroids that fueled his career.

The tragic tale of John Kordic is largely forgotten by the hockey mainstream, but steroids have taken front-page center of the sports world. Rafael Palmeiro, a prominent baseball player who vociferously denied using illegal performance-enhancing substances to a Congressional investigation, recently returned from a suspension after being caught using those very same substances. The boos rained down so hard recently he went to his last at-bat wearing earplugs. In France, a report claims it has irrefutable proof that seven-time Tour de France winner Lance Armstrong once used EPO, a form of steroids. Many defend the validity of the report, but no one can deny they don’t feel just the smallest pang of doubt when they view Armstrong and his storied accomplishments.

And now hockey faces the long climb back to credibility after a yearlong hiatus. But in addition to a new Collective Bargaining Agreement, the NHL saw the fallout in Major League Baseball and instituted a new drug testing policy as well. According to the NHL’s official website, the new testing schedule and the subsequent punishment as the result of a positive test are a far cry from what they were:

“…every NHL player will be subject to up to two “no-notice” tests every year, with at least one such test to be conducted on a team-wide basis. Players will be subject to “no-notice” testing at any time.”

“For the first positive test, a 20-game suspension without pay and mandatory referral to the League’s Substance Abuse/Behavioral Health Program for evaluation, education and possible treatment. For the second positive test, a 60-game suspension without pay. For the third positive test, a permanent suspension. A player receiving a third positive test and a permanent suspension from play in the League will, however, be eligible to apply for reinstatement after two years.”

The policy applies to all banned substances, but it is obviously a reaction to the scandal steroids have caused in sports culture. Already hockey is starting to feel the fallout, however small. Andrew Peters, another NHL enforcer, has recently admitted to using androstenedione, a steroid-like substance that was legal at the time Peters claimed to have used it.

How might steroids affect the hockey world? Might we see deflated numbers and wide speculation like we do in baseball today? Perhaps not. The positive in hockey’s favor is its international make-up. There are already strict anti-doping policies in international hockey, so any NHL player suiting up in Europe or international competition is subject to testing. As a result of the yearlong lockout, many NHL players played out the season in Europe, and so should be used to rigorous testing. One might hope that as a result of that rigorous testing, players feel it’s not worth the risk.

But already the NHL is being criticized for not being strict enough. Congress has said the policy should mandate a minimum number of tests, have an independent administrator of those tests, test through the postseason, and administer longer suspensions. They say the new policy has too many loopholes.

Many go into this upcoming season with optimism, expecting a faster-paced and more enjoyable brand of hockey the likes of which haven’t been seen since John Kordic took to the ice. Many will watch the breakaways, the booming slapshots, the jaw-dropping saves, the bone-crushing checks, and of course, they will loudly cheer the fights. But in the back of every hockey fan’s mind, there will be some doubt. Which ones were using? Which ones are using now?

And sooner or later, a big name in the NHL will get caught, forcing all of hockey fandom to view their heroes with a more scrutinizing eye.


John Kordic profile and photo:

NHL CBA drug testing policy:

Congressional criticism of the new NHL drug testing policy:

Sabres’ Peters admits to Andro use:

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