NHL players tested like everyone else, says dope chief

By Karolos Grohmann

VANCOUVER (Reuters) - Players from the NHL, whose testing procedures have been berated by doping agencies in the past, will be subject to the same drugs controls as every other athlete, the Vancouver Games doping lab chief said on Tuesday.

The NHL's drug-testing program is considered the weakest among North America's big four professional sports leagues and it has previously been criticized by the World Anti-Doping Agency (WADA).

"All professional leagues are available for testing. I can confirm that NHL players have been tested."

She said there was no positive test among those NHL players so far. The International Olympic Committee will conduct more than 2,100 drugs tests across all sports during the February 12-28 winter Games.

WADA enraged the NHL prior to the 2006 Turin Olympics by suggesting that 30 percent of ice hockey players were using banned substances. It also criticized its lax testing procedures.

The players' association (NHLPA) has fought efforts to introduce tougher testing in the league's anti-doping program, which includes a maximum of three tests per player in a year.

Under the NHL Collective Bargaining Agreement (CBA), first time offenders get a 20-game suspension followed by a 60-game ban for a second positive test, sanctions that are lighter than WADA's, which can be up to four years for first time offenders.

In 2007, New York Islander Sean Hill became the first player to be suspended for abusing the NHL's anti-doping policy and was handed a 20-game ban, but the league has managed to avoid the doping scandals that have dogged Major League Baseball.

(Editing by Miles Evans)