United States Olympic Committee officials held firm Thursday on their demand that NHL players who compete for the American hockey team be randomly tested for steroids leading up to the Salt Lake City Olympics.
However, acting committee executive director Scott Blackmun and NHL counsel Bill Daly said there was progress as both sides exchanged views during a 90-minute meeting. An agreement could be announced as early as next week.
"We know a lot more now than we did two days ago," Daly said. "The ball's in our court now to go back and create a mousetrap that will catch everybody's needs. We're much more knowledgeable about what the USOC needs."
The committee wants random out-of-competition testing for American hockey players to begin as early as possible.
Blackmun announced last month that the committee would no longer exempt NHL players from testing that other American athletes are required to undergo, as it did during the 1998 Nagano Olympics.
"It's important for us to treat all of the athletes on the U.S. Olympic team the same, and most of the athletes have been subjected to testing for some time," Blackmun said.
"We don't want to subject the entire NHL to testing," he said. "Our intent is to subject those players who will be on the U.S. Olympic hockey team."
Before that can happen, the American roster must be named. USA Hockey, along with the NHL, set a tentative date of March 25 to name the squad, but one sticking point is how the testing will be done.
The NHL favours a uniform testing method, preferably to be overseen by the World Anti-Drug Agency, for players who skate for different countries, whether they're American or not. Canadian hockey officials also favour testing overseen by the world agency.
For example, the league doesn't want Czech skater Jaromir Jagr to undergo a schedule that calls for different tests -- or more or less frequent tests -- than Mario Lemieux, a Canadian who is his teammate on the Pittsburgh Penguins.
"We find it hard to accept a position where one or two NHL players in a club's locker-room would be subject to different requirements than their teammates," Daly said.
Blackmun said the U.S. Olympic Committee doesn't object to using the world agency for testing, provided an agreement is forged soon. The committee had hoped to begin testing American hockey players one year before the Olympics, which run Feb. 8 to 24, 2002.
Terrence Madden, chief executive of the United States Anti-Doping Agency, said his organization is required to begin testing of American athletes no later than 120 days before the Olympics, but hopes it won't wait so long.
"To have an effective testing program, you have to test athletes over an extended period of time," he said.
And that's another problem for the NHL, which is concerned about having its top athletes go through the playoffs facing scrutiny from doping. A failed test could embarrass the player, his country, his team and the league.
Daly said he plans to discuss the situation with representatives from the players association and USA Hockey. He plans to contact Blackmun again early next week.
"It was a productive meeting today, one step in the process," Daly said.