• The National Hockey League and its players like to tell people how “clean” the sport’s athletes are. But as we discovered this weekend, it’s more wishful thinking than actual fact.
On Saturday Dec. 13, Phoenix Coyotes enforcer Brian McGrattan became the latest NHLer to enter the league’s substance abuse program, in the process, continuing a troubling trend that has seen many of the league’s most rugged and fearsome men unable to cope with the pressures of playing “on the edge.”
The list of those who have buckled under such strain is long and often tragic.
There’s legendary goon John Kordic, who died from cocaine and steroid abuse in 1992.
There’s Brantt Myhers – another player whose most sought-after on-ice skill was the ability to throw punches. He entered the NHL’s substance abuse program four times in the eight years he bounced between the big show and the minor leagues.
Theo Fleury is also a multi-occasion entrant into the NHL’s substance abuse program. Beloved Red Wings tough guy Darren McCarty has been in rehab four times during his career.
Infamous stick-swinger and skate-stomper Chris Simon had all kinds of alcohol issues while playing in junior hockey.
And Bob Probert’s drug-and-booze-fuelled run-ins with the law are well documented.
You could probably also lump the newly pariah-ized Sean Avery in with that group, not because he has any documented substance abuse issues, but because the self-destructive aspects of his behavior are very similar to those players whose lives have been taken hostage by their subconscious urges.
It’s not always the goons who become entangled in substance abuse – Claude Lapointe, Sandis Ozolinsh, Ken Daneyko and Kevin Stevens are among the prime examples of that – but it is very telling that NHLers who employ the edgy approach to the game comprise the majority of players who wind up careening into self-debasement and off-ice chaos.
As a number of enforcers have told me over the years, the knowledge that they were going to be used as human punching bags just about every game often caused them to throw up in the dressing room before they headed out onto the ice.
And as McGrattan and others have shown, you can easily make the case that sense of dread manifests among fist-first players in a far more damaging manner when they’re away from the arena.
• Finally, for those who are interested, here’s my online holiday schedule: I’ll be filing a column and mailbag this week, then I’m off from Dec. 20 through Jan. 11, with the exceptions of a blog entry Dec. 29 and a full-on report live from the Winter Classic in Chicago on New Year’s Day.
In the meantime, happy holidays to the lot of you.
Adam Proteau, co-author of the book The Top 60 Since 1967, is writer and columnist for The Hockey News and a regular contributor to THN.com. His blog appears Mondays, his Ask Adam feature appears Fridays and his column, Screen Shots, appears Thursdays.
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