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NHL Has a Drinking Problem--but There's No Penalty

June 30, 1987|JULIE CART | Times Staff Writer

Bob Probert, 22, plays left wing for the Detroit Red Wings. He's one of his team's toughest enforcers and has a reputation for being aggressive.

He has been arrested three times since April for impaired driving.

He has been convicted of assaulting a police officer in a bar.

He smashed his $20,000 car into a utility pole.

He has been thrown out of an alcohol rehabilitation center, where the director said: "He's just loafing, going through the motions."

Some say he is a man with a drinking problem.

Probert's drinking has led to his being sent to the minors and a suspension by the Red Wings. It has led to the suspension of his driver's license and to fines by the Windsor, Ontario, courts and by his team.

Does all of this make Probert unusual in the National Hockey League?

Not really. Probert and his problems aren't exactly typical, but they are not unusual either.

Although NHL officials deny that there is a serious problem, recent alcohol-related incidents indicate otherwise.

For example:

--A week after he was traded to the St. Louis Blues from the New York Rangers May 28, veteran forward Tony McKegney was stopped in Buffalo at 2:20 a.m. for speeding and running a red light. McKegney, 29, was charged with driving while intoxicated after a Breathalyzer test indicated that McKegney's blood-alcohol level was .13. The legal limit in New York is .10.

--Jamie Macoun of the Calgary Flames may have ended his career with injuries suffered in a car accident May 12. Macoun, a five-year defenseman, lost control of his sports car at 2 a.m. and crossed three lanes, jumped a divider and went head-on into opposing traffic.

His car sideswiped an oncoming vehicle and flipped, pinning Macoun's left arm under the car. It took 40 minutes to pry Macoun out of his demolished vehicle. He suffered head injuries and severe cuts, and half of his ear had to be sewn back on. The main concern is for his left arm, which was cut so deeply that it is unclear if he will ever regain full use of it.

A blood test taken by the Royal Canadian Mounted Police showed Macoun's blood-alcohol level at more than .08, the legal limit. Macoun was charged with drunken driving but pleaded guilty to a lesser charge of dangerous driving and was fined $1,000. He is 25 years old.

--Miroslav Frycer, 27, of the Toronto Maple Leafs, began last season in a Toronto jail after failing a roadside sobriety check. Found guilty of impaired driving, Frycer, of Czechoslovakia, was sentenced to two weeks in jail and lost his driving privileges for two years.

--In February of 1986, Jim Craig, the goalie for the 1980 U.S. Olympic hockey team who never quite made it big in the NHL, was arrested for drunken driving and speeding on a highway outside Boston.

--Perhaps the NHL's best known casualty was the Philadelphia Flyers' sensational Swedish goaltender, Pelle Lindbergh.

Lindbergh was the best goalie in the NHL in 1985. On a Sunday morning, he and two passengers left an after-hours bar and got into Lindbergh's sports car. Lindbergh, traveling at more than 80 m.p.h., failed to make a turn and slammed into a concrete wall in front of a school in Somerdale, N.J..

Lindbergh, 26, was pronounced brain dead days later. The blood tests taken after the accident showed that Lindbergh was drunk. His blood-alcohol level was .24, more than twice the legal limit in New Jersey.

--In January of 1984, Craig MacTavish, who was in his fourth season as a center for the Boston Bruins, was involved in an accident in Massachusetts that killed Kim Radley, a 26-year-old antique dealer from Newfield, Me.

MacTavish, 25 at the time, was charged with drunken driving, driving to endanger and operating without a license. He pleaded guilty to vehicular homicide and was sentenced to a year in prison, without possibility of parole.

The Bruins released MacTavish while he was in prison and he signed as a free agent with the Edmonton Oilers, where he has played the last two seasons.

--Another Oiler, forward Dave Hunter, was jailed last year after his third conviction in six months for impaired driving. He was sentenced to four months in jail, but the term was reduced to 28 days after an appeal. Hunter served seven days and missed four games.

"What will it take to get (NHL officials') attention?" asks Derek Sanderson, a nine-year former pro who has gone through drug and alcohol treatment. "It will have to take five guys dying in one car wreck. It's a time bomb waiting to go off."

In this day and age of substance abuse in professional sports, the substance most commonly abused in the NHL would seem to be alcohol. The NHL has taken a strong stance against drug use, which has been only an infrequent problem. But it has no policy on alcohol abuse.

Imagine a professional sport that does not have a significant drug problem, and you have stumbled on the NHL. There have been rumors of drug abuse but little evidence to back them up.

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