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Congress looks into science of HGH test for NFL

Congress looks into science of HGH test for NFL

WASHINGTON (AP) Nearly two full seasons since signing a labor deal that paved the way for HGH testing in the NFL, the league and the players' union still haven't agreed to implement anything.

The NFL Players Association won't concede the validity of a test that's used by Olympic sports and Major League Baseball, and the sides haven't been able to jointly pick a scientist to help resolve that impasse.

So now Congress steps in. The House Oversight and Government Reform Committee is holding a hearing Wednesday to take a look at the science behind tests for human growth hormone, a substance that is hard to detect and believed to be used by athletes for a variety of benefits, whether real or only perceived - such as increasing speed or improving vision.

``The players are claiming that the testing is questionable. What's bothering me about all of this is that the players made an agreement in 2011 ... that they would begin the human growth hormone testing, and it seems to me that they have thrown roadblocks and found excuses not to do it. And that concerns me. An agreement is an agreement,'' said Rep. Elijah Cummings of Maryland, the ranking committee Democrat, who noted that he expects there will be additional hearings.

``We also want to make sure that the players are treated fairly,'' Cummings said in a telephone interview. ``We want to hear the science, so we can make some valid judgments as to the players' allegations that this may not be valid.''

A memo sent by committee staff members last week to lawmakers says: ``Every week of football played without a test for HGH endangers the game and sends a message to young athletes that HGH is tolerated at the game's highest level.''

The memo closes by saying: ``This hearing will examine the science behind current HGH testing and highlight the fact that this testing is available to use in the NFL.''

In a statement issued Tuesday previewing the hearing, committee chairman Darrell Issa, a California Republican, sent something of a warning to the NFL and players.

``There has been a frustrating lack of progress on testing. The possibility that federal legislation could eventually be adopted to address this problem may be unlikely at this point, but the league and its players would be unwise to ignore it,'' Issa said.

The committee did not ask anyone from the league or union to testify Wednesday. Scheduled witnesses include Pro Football Hall of Fame member Dick Butkus, U.S. Anti-Doping Agency Chief Science Officer Larry Bowers, and National Institutes of Health Deputy Director Lawrence Tabak.

In written testimony submitted to the committee, Bowers says ``there is a broad consensus among scientific experts who regularly work in the growth hormone field'' that the test is reliable and valid, and that ``the chances of an athlete who has not used synthetic growth hormone testing positive are comparable to the chance of that same athlete being struck by lightning during his or her lifetime.''

Bowers writes that World Anti-Doping Agency records show that as of late August, 12 positive results showed up from 12,764 HGH tests around the world.

``I would like to point out that the only people who are still questioning the methodology and validity of the ... test are lawyers, not scientists,'' his testimony reads.

Tabak's written testimony says many studies vouch for the reliability of HGH testing, even though the naturally occurring hormone and the artificial form are ``virtually indistinguishable.'' He adds: ``Questions can always be raised about whether a given test, even one whose reliability has been established under most circumstances, also has universal validity. ... In science, universal validity is almost never achievable. ...''

He also discusses the ``serious risks'' athletes who give themselves HGH are taking, and estimates some use doses 10 times higher than for medical purposes.

Even once scientific issues are resolved, there will be other matters the league and union need to figure out, including who administers the test and what the appeals process will be. The latter could be of particular import in the aftermath of the decision in the New Orleans Saints' bounty case Tuesday, when NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell's suspensions of four players were tossed aside by former Commissioner Paul Tagliabue.

The collective bargaining agreement that ended the NFL lockout in August 2011 included a provision for HGH testing as soon as last season - but only once the NFLPA approved the process.

``The players agreed to HGH testing in the CBA because they believe in a clean game. They did not, however, agree to an artificial timeline to impose a testing protocol that has no transparency in the underlying science nor a fair due process that is outlined,'' union spokesman George Atallah said.

NFL senior vice president Adolpho Birch, who oversees the league's drug program, said the sport has been ``trying to do whatever needed to be done to advance the ball'' on HGH testing.

``I am hopeful because, among other things, the hearing presumably will put to rest the questions of whether the test is safe, practical, reliable and appropriate for NFL players,'' Birch said. ``If that occurs, it may present an opportunity for the parties to resume serious discussions on how to implement it, rather than being sort of lost in the trenches discussing the questions about its reliability.''

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Wilson's return sparks Capitals to a 5-2 win at Minnesota

Wilson's return sparks Capitals to a 5-2 win at Minnesota

Tom Wilson stayed on brand in his return from a long suspension.

The Capitals’ big man scored a goal and took a penalty on the same play in his first game of the season, a 5-2 win against the Minnesota Wild Tuesday night. 

Wilson won’t get the 16 games back he missed for an illegal check to the head of St. Louis Blues forward Oskar Sundqvist. But he tried to make up for it in his debut. 

Wilson scored Washington’s second goal at 19:32 of the first period when he drove the net hard and deflected a pass from teammate Dmitry Orlov past Minnesota goalie Devan Dubnyk. But this being Wilson, nothing is totally uncontroversial.  

The 6-foot-4, 220-pounder was moving fast. There was no stopping him. Wilson, with some help from Wild defenseman Ryan Suter, collided with Dubnyk. The puck was already in the net, but the referee decided Wilson needed to go think about what he’d done after Dubnyk got clocked in the head. It was a two-minute goalie interference call. 

That’s an odd play rarely called. Either the goal counts or it doesn’t, but maybe because Wilson had already scored before running into Dubnyk both calls could stand. 

“It was a first for me to score and get a penalty on the same play,” Wilson told reporters in St. Paul. “I was just going hard to the net and Snarls [Orlov] put it right on my tape. It was a great pass at full speed. I was trying to do everything I could to get out of the way. I’ll take the goal and the kill went out there and got it done. It was good to see.”

It was far from Wilson’s only contribution in his first game back. He also fought Marcus Foligno at 11:58 of the second period on the faceoff after Minnesota cut a Washington lead to 3-1. He didn’t back down when asked to go by Foligno. 

“He’s a key player for our team, brings so much energy both on the ice and off the ice,” forward Andre Burakovsky said. “Huge lift for the team to get him back earlier. Didn’t expect that and I think he had a really strong game today. Obviously, he got the goal in his first game back and then some dirty works. Obviously, I think he’s a huge guy for us in PK and it showed today.”

Wilson didn’t get the assist on the goal that put the game away. Alex Ovechkin found Orlov for a one-timer on a pass from the left faceoff circle to the right. But it was Wilson driving hard toward the goal that kept a Wild defenseman with him and allowed Orlov the space to finish Ovechkin’s pass. Those little things have been missed in the 16 games Wilson was suspended. He was relentless. 

One big issue for the Capitals: The penalty kill. Wilson has been a big part of that group in recent years and without him – and, to be fair the departed Jay Beagle and the injured Brooks Orpik – Washington entered the game 29thin the NHL in penalty kill percentage (71.7 percent). Wilson wasn’t eased into anything. He played 5:23 on the penalty kill and the Capitals killed five of six Wild power plays. 

[Wilson] does a lot not just on the ice, but in our room. Adds a ton of energy. Well respected player for how he trains,” Capitals coach Todd Reirden. “Going through a tough time and obviously kind of a surprise for us to get him back today. We were hoping to at any point here and we were able to take advantage of a fortunate bounce for our team before even the game started. But I didn’t expect him to have as strong a game as he did." 

"Obviously able to convert on a great play on a line rush, but just the other things he did. Our penalty kill, the opposition scores a goal and, you talk about shifts after goals, not giving the team any more momentum than they’ve already gotten and he gets in a fight there. There’s a lot to like about Tom Wilson and I thought he had a strong game. It was great to have him back.”

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4 reasons the Caps beat the Wild

4 reasons the Caps beat the Wild

Think the Caps missed Tom Wilson? It sure looked like it.

Washington looked like a completely different team with Wilson back in the lineup Tuesday in a dominant 5-2 win over the Minnesota Wild.

Here are four reasons the Caps won:

Tom Wilson

Wilson made his season debut Tuesday after his suspension was reduced by a neutral arbitrator earlier in the day. Wilson’s addition to the lineup had two effects. One, it made the lineup a lot deeper. Without Wilson, Todd Reirden was having trouble putting together the right lineup. Several players cycled on the top line and every line behind the top had to shuffle. Wilson came back onto the top line and immediately the rest of the lineup fell into place.

The top line looked better, the second line looked better and the third line looked better with their regular lineups back intact.

Wilson’s return also brought a lot of energy to the team and that was evident from the very start of the game. The Caps outshot Minnesota 12-6 and took the 2-0 lead in the first period of the game. Compare that to the rather lethargic game we saw on Sunday, clearly, Wilson brought a spark.

Oh, yeah, Wilson has also had a pretty darn good game too. He scored in the first period of the game in a typical Wilson play. He completely blew past Minnesota defenseman Ryan Suter and tipped in a pass from Dmitry Orlov as he crashed the net on goalie Devan Dubnyk.

Somehow Wilson was also given a goalie interference penalty… but the goal still counted? Regardless of what was an obvious reputation penalty, it was a good return for Wilson, who also had a fight with Marcus Foligno and helped set up Orlov’s second goal by crashing again and drawing the defense over to him.

Dmitry Orlov

Orlov broke a 19-game goal drought with a goal just 7:23 into the game.

Lars Eller had the puck and cut to the blue line in the offensive zone turning to the middle. Minnesota got caught puck watching as the defense shifted with Eller, leaving Orlov open on the left. Eller found him and Orlov took advantage of the extra space to score his first goal of the season.

Orlov would add an assist on Wilson’s goal and a second goal in the third period off a beautiful pass from Alex Ovechkin.

The typically reliable defensive pairing of Orlov and Matt Niskanen struggled at the start of the season prompting Todd Reirden to switch up the pairs and place Orlov with John Carlson. Clearly, the move had the desired effect in Tuesday’s game.

The schedule

Tuesday’s game was the Wild’s first at home since Oct. 27. Minnesota was coming off a seven-game road swing and they looked a bit weary at the start of the game. As mentioned above, the Wild were outshot 12-6 in the first period and then 15-8 in the second.

Really, this game was a perfect storm. Not only were the Wild tired from a lengthy road trip, but they also were dealing with a Caps team that was pumped up by the return of Wilson.

Part of what made Sunday’s loss to Arizona so disappointing was the fact that the Coyotes were on the second leg of a back-to-back with their starting goalie on IR. The Caps were not able to take advantage, but they certainly took it to a vulnerable, road-weary team on Tuesday.

The penalty kill

Washington’s porous penalty kill was the reason the Caps lost to the Columbus Blue Jackets Friday and a major reason they fell to Arizona. The PK finally stood tall on Tuesday as the Caps were able to kill off four out of five penalties on the night. The lone power play goal the team gave up came in the third period when the Caps were already up 5-1 and the game was no longer in doubt.

You can add the penalty kill to the long list of things that Wilson instantly improved in his return. Wilson logged 16:47 of total ice time on Tuesday and 5:23 of that came on the penalty kill.

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