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Karalahti: NHL Career Is Over

Ex-King defenseman, who is suspended, says he'd rather quit league than give up drinking.

January 28, 2003|Jerry Crowe | Times Staff Writer

Former King defenseman Jere Karalahti, five months into a six-month suspension for a third violation of the league's substance-abuse policy, said Monday that he probably will never again play in the NHL.

In town to take care of personal business, Karalahti, 27, watched the Kings skate at their El Segundo training facility and reiterated comments he made last summer that he would rather quit the NHL than give up drinking.

"If I want to come back here," the Finn said, "I have to go through a treatment plan and all that stuff. No beers. Not even one beer. Nothing. Every night I have to go to A.A. meetings and all this stuff.

"I think that's not for me. I can play hockey somewhere else."

Karalahti, traded from the Kings to the Nashville Predators in March, struggled with drug problems before joining the NHL but it was alcohol that got him in trouble in the United States. He said each violation of the league's substance-abuse policy involved drinking, and an NHL source said the first two occurred while he played for the Kings.

Karalahti, who played 134 games in three seasons for the Kings after the club helped clear the way for him to join the NHL after his 1997 conviction in Helsinki on drug offenses, said he couldn't abide by the NHL's zero-tolerance policy.

"I want to live my life the way I want to live it," he said. "I want to have some fun too, and it's not possible with those rules over here."

Still under contract with the Predators, he said he would sign with his former team, IFK in Helsinki, after his NHL deal expires at midnight June 30.

Karalahti said his suspension, due to end next month, would not be lifted because he has not completed a treatment program.

He said he completed a five-week program in Las Vegas last summer, but after that "I went to Nashville and had a little party." The result: A six-month suspension.

"I guess it's a cultural thing," he said. "In Finland, you can have a beer if you want. That's what surprised me -- it's summertime; it's my vacation. Tell me one other job where they can still tell you what to do when you're on vacation."

Karalahti was to be paid $800,000 this season. If he signs to play in his homeland next season, he probably will make less than $200,000.

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