Lacing Up is a weekly column taken from an email conversation between Ashley Gallant and CJ. “Stoosh” Jiuliante. Stoosh is a former Faceoff Factor staff writer and a long-time hockey fan.

This week’s featured guest is former FF writer Alex Kirshner.

Ash: Last month, the baseball world was shaken by another steroid scandal when Alex Rodriguez admitted to taking steroids from 2001 to 2003 when he was playing with the Texas Rangers.

Thankfully, the hockey world has not been exposed as a hotbed for performance-enhancing drugs…yet. There has only been one NHL player who has been suspended for abusing the NHL’s performance enhancing substance policy. Does this mean that the NHL is actually drug-free, or do you think that players are just not being caught?

Kirsh: Well, it does feel nice to be back in some capacity. Thanks for the invite this week, Ash. As for the question at hand, my answer is no, the league is not completely free of performance enhancing substances. It’s long been my thinking that hockey players are the best athletes and best people you will ever find in the sporting world today, but I just don’t know that it’s realistic to expect 100 % a completely clean league. There are always a few bad apples, regardless of the situation or setting you are looking at.

Stoosh: I’m not naive enough to think that the NHL is a league clean of any performance-enhancing substances, but I do think there is less room in hockey for what most people commonly think of when the term “performance-enhancing substance” is thrown around.

Thankfully, hockey is a game where the players don’t seem to benefit at all from the use of conventional anabolic steroids. I’m not quite old enough to recall all the details, but I can remember Bob Probert fighting some pretty signficant accusations of steroid use back in the late 1980s (which coincided with his arrest for cocaine possession in 1989). I also remember the story of John Kordic. Kordic was an enforcer with the Maple Leafs and Canadiens who died in 1992 of heart failure after engaging in a struggle with police after trashing a hotel room. Kordic had overdosed on cocaine prior to the struggle with police, but I recall there being concerns that his rumored steroid use may have played a part in his death.

As the prevalence of fighting has cycled downwards since the late 1980s/early 1990s (when 250-300 PIM seasons weren’t uncommon), I think most players in the NHL – even the enforcers – seemed to stay away from the anabolic steroids.

You look at some players today and you realize that hockey players are probably as big, as cut and as physically fit as they might have ever been in the history of the league. Training methods have advanced significantly even over the last ten or fifteen years, and NHL players in general seem to be paying much more attention to their physical conditioning and training. I have to wonder about the prevalence of HGH or other substances that were used in other sports mostly to promote and expedite healing. I’d be curious to know if such substances are being used in the NHL in that same capacity, perhaps in much more controlled and limited quantities, especially given the game’s incredibly taxing nature on the body.

Ash: I, too, wonder about the use of HGH by NHL players. I know that the NHL does drug testing on all players at least once per season, but I don’t know whether these are urine tests or blood tests. I believe you can only detect synthetic HGH in blood tests, therefore urine testing would not indicate whether an athlete is taking HGH. If this is the case, there could be many NHL players injecting themselves with this hormone, knowing that they cannot be caught through the drug test….

One of the biggest substance problems in the NHL right now is not actually a ‘performance-enhancing’ substance – it’s alcohol. I’m not saying that everyone has a problem, but I do think that the NHL has its fair share of alcohol-related incidents. Then again, can we really be surprised, considering how hockey and alcohol tend to go together? It seems as though every hockey-themed commercial I see also has people with glasses of beer.

Kirsh- Outside of Montreal, Ash, I’m not so sure alcohol is a huge issue among NHL players. Lame joke aside, now, you are correct. Beer has been a fixture in hockey locker rooms for most teams for as long as hockey’s been played, and unfortunately, it’s somewhat of a commonality to see it in dressing rooms for teams with players well under the age of 21.

Ash: Hmm…Jay Bouwmeester, Mark Bell, Ed Belfour…you could add the Staal brothers, though that wouldn’t necessarily qualify as ‘problem’ drinking….and then there are Craig MacTavish, John LeClair, Rob Ramage, Tim Horton, Bob Probert…and those are just the guys who come to mind at this moment.

I know that list is pretty small compared to the list of thousands of players in the NHL over the last several decades, but I still think that alcohol may be an issue among players (in general).