NOJHL To Begin Drug Testing

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NOJHL to begin drug testing

The prospect of being tested for marijuana, steroids or other performance-enhancing drugs is no big deal to Sault Thunderbirds captain Micky Sartoretto.

"It’s part of being an athlete," Sartoretto said. "It’s part of following the rules and respecting them."

The Northern Ontario Junior Hockey League has started an anti-doping education and testing program provided by the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport. It is the first league under the Canadian Junior Hockey League umbrella to do so.

The anti-doping policy was brought in as more of an education program for players rather than a reaction to a problem.

"I don’t think we brought it in to catch anybody. I think we brought it in to educate our players," said Robert Mazzuca, commissioner of the NOJHL. "There could be (players using drugs). That’s speculation. If there are, we’ll deal with it."

Sartoretto has already been subject to the possibility of drug testing during his time playing for the OHL’s Kitchener Rangers and Saginaw Spirit.

"I had to do it for the past couple of years and it’s not really an issue," he said.

"I just think they are trying to help everyone as an individual perform their best. (Being drug-free) is the best for your health," Sartoretto said.

NOJHL players have already begun the education component. Random drug testing will start as early as this week.

"I think it’s very important, not only to keep a level playing field, but more importantly, just for the health of the athletes," said Preston Mizzi, the Thunderbirds’ head coach. "Anytime you are putting stuff in your body that is not meant to be there, only bad things can happen.

"I think it’s about time that it’s being implemented, not only at the pro level, but at all levels of sport."

The team had a presentation and discussion about the policy.

"We had a good talk about it. Everyone understands the rules and what’s allowed and what’s not," Mizzi said. "I don’t think anybody has a problem with it. I think everyone knows that to be an athlete at a high level, you can’t be doing that kind of stuff anyway."

Every player had to sign up online for the education component.

"It’s all monitored. I get a daily report. I can go online right now and tell you who has done it, when and at what time," Mazzuca said.

"Every player has to sign a consent form allowing for the anti-doping testing that is beginning next week."

The policy is needed for the same reason similar policies are used in other hockey leagues as well as at the Olympic and world champion level, he said.

"It’s another form of educating your players and to make sure everybody is playing at the same level," Mazzuca said. "It’s good for the kids… It’s good for the league.

"It just reaffirms our commitment to our players and to their parents that we take their health and welfare very, very seriously," he said.

The league modeled its policy after Ontario Hockey League’s anti-doping policy.

"They really truly made it possible for us to do this … and I can’t thank (OHL commissioner) David Branch and the OHL enough for it," Mazzuca said.

The Centre for Ethics in Sport has signed a two-year agreement with the league to provide anti-doping education and testing services. Representatives of the organization will show up at NOJHL hockey games and pick a series of players to test.

"They randomly select them and with three or four minutes left in the game, they go by the bench, tell the trainer this is the guy we want and they don’t let them out of their sight," Mazzuca said.

If a player tests positive, the issue is reviewed by an independent committee. The committee investigates the issue and provides a recommendation to Mazzuca.

Penalties for being caught using performance-enhancing drugs such as steroids are an eight-game suspension for the first infraction, a 25-game suspension for the second and two-year suspension for the third.

"We’ll share that information with other leagues," Mazzuca said. "If we have a player, let’s say, that has a violation and then he goes to the OHL we share that information with the OHL."

If a player tests positive for marijuana use, they will receive a letter of warning for the first infraction.

The name of the player or individual who is found to have committed an anti-doping rule violation will be disclosed publicly, via a press release issued by the Canadian Centre for Ethics in Sport. The names of players who commit an anti-doping rule violation for marijuana will not be disclosed publicly if it’s the first violation.

Players caught doping may also be required to participate in rehabilitation programs such as counselling, a substance abuse program or community service.

"If there is a violation and there is a problem, we as a league and the team in question will be dealing with that individual trying to get them help or assistance, or whatever they require. That’s part of the policy as well," Mazzuca said.

The feedback from the teams in the league — which include the Thunderbirds, Blind River Beavers, Sudbury Cubs, North Bay Trappers, Kirkland Lake Blue Devils, Abitibi Eskimos and the Soo (Mich.) Eagles — has been positive so far, Mazzuca said.

"When I suggested this policy back in August, they embraced it," Mazzuca said.

"I think it’s a good idea," said Albert Giommi, president of the Thunderbirds.

The policy will prevent players from cheating by using performance-enhancing drugs, he said. If players are using other drugs, such as marijuana, it will help them kick the habit, he said.

"It’s not fair if some boys are on steroids and some aren’t," Giommi said. "I guess if we can straighten them out at a young age, it’s all the best."

Rachel Punch

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