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NHL players to face same dope tests as all athletes

Random drug tests may begin as early as this summer

NHL players hoping to compete in the Olympics will face random drug testing as soon as this summer, under a tentative agreement that holds pro players to the same standards as other Olympians.

The agreement was spurred by a United States Olympic Committee demand that American players undergo the random tests, but will also include foreign players who will compete on Olympic teams from other countries.

The NHL had resisted specific tests on American players, and held out for a plan under which the World Anti-Doping Agency to do all the testing.

NHL vice president of communications Frank Brown confirmed Saturday that the league had reached agreement for the WADA to do the testing on all players in the Olympic pool, regardless of nationality. The agreement reached in discussions with the NHL, its player's association and the International Ice Hockey Federation, is expected to be formally ratified later this week.

"It will apply to players from all countries," Brown said.

No players will be tested before the NHL playoffs are over, a victory for the league, which felt such testing might have a negative impact on players during the postseason.

USOC executive director Scott Blackmun, who initiated the call for hockey and basketball millionaires to face the same testing as other Olympic athletes, said testing should begin this summer. In the future, Blackmun said he wanted testing up to a year before the Olympics, as other Olympians face.

"Given the time challenges we have, I think the NHL has acted very reasonably," Blackmun said. "In future years we would certainly like the process to begin at an earlier date."

Blackmun said he has had discussions with NBA commissioner David Stern over similar testing for U.S. Dream Team members, but that the pressure to reach an agreement quickly was not as great as with the hockey players who will be in Salt Lake City next February.

Under the agreement, players can be tested at random for steroids and substances which mask steroids. There is no testing for recreational drugs such as cocaine or marijuana, or alcohol.

The USOC last month voted to implement drug testing for pro players, responding to criticism that hockey and basketball players were not subjected to the same drug testing regulations as other Olympic hopefuls.

The original call was for U.S. athletes to be tested by the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency, but the NHL in meetings earlier this month with the USOC in Salt Lake City called for the world doping agency to do the testing so there was uniformity.

The first players to be subjected to possible testing will be those to be named to teams beginning this week. The United States is tentatively set to name its first eight players next Saturday, while Canada is scheduled to name its players a day later.

A pool of players will be named later. They also will be subject to testing even if they aren't named to the team.

In the 1998 Nagano Winter Olympics, NHL players weren't subjected to random testing until the actual competition itself. But Olympic officials have come under pressure to tighten testing controls following the Sydney Olympics, where a number of athletes, including American C.J. Hunter, had positive steroid tests disclosed.