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Secret codes, special phones help NHL’s doctors fight espionage in Russia

Harrison Mooney
Puck Daddy

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The Cold War is over, but a new cold war -- the Sochi Olympics men's hockey tournament -- has just begun. And this one has just as much espionage.

If you thought NHL teams were secretive about the health of their players during the season, where injuries are often described in wonderfully vague terms like "upper-body", "lower-body", in some cases, "middle-body", or the grandaddy of vagueness, just "body", that's nothing compared to what's going on in Russia.

According to Frank Fitzpatrick of The Philadelphia Inquirer, an injury to an NHL player in Sochi will be relayed to his team's doctor back home via -- wait for it -- secret codes and clean phones. This is awesome. From Philly.com:

At some point during the Olympic men's hockey tournament, which opened Thursday with a pair of games, a Flyers executive in Philadelphia might receive a mysterious text from a "clean phone" here.

Before that team official could decipher the message - which might read something like, "3 . . . MCL . . . Grade I . . . 7-day hold" - he would need to crack the code.

[...] Using numbers instead of names and specially issued cellphones wiped clear of all data, the two Philadelphia physicians representing the NHL in Sochi can communicate discreetly.

Why the secrecy? The Russians could be listening.

If a player gets injured in Sochi, you'd better believe his NHL team wants to know about it, and they want input as to whether or not the player plays through it. (Can you imagine if, say, Alex Ovechkin or Evgeni Malkin was hurt before the gold medal game? Would a Russian doctor tell the team he shouldn't play?)

The league's owners were adamant about being looped in on injuries when they reluctantly agreed to let the players go to Sochi.

But this sets up a tricky situation. They have to be told, but you don't want to inadvertently let the Russians know in the process. There is a concern that the Russians, who want this gold pretty badly, would stoop to hacking and spying for additional information to gain an upper hand in the tournament.

"[The owners] said any kind of personal account or anything with a password could be hacked by the Russians in a minute," Peter DeLuca, the Flyers' orthopaedic surgeon and one of the NHL's two medical representatives in Sochi, told Fitzpatrick. "So we left everything home, and they issued us these 'clean phones.'"

It's a great solution, since it protects the Olympic squads and the NHL teams from the concern of having players' injuries in any way targeted. Plus it turns the whole hockey tournament into something out of a James Bond film.

Burner phones. Secret codes. It's like The Wire in Sochi.

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Harrison Mooney is the associate editor for Puck Daddy on Yahoo Sports. Have a tip? Email him at puckdaddyblog@yahoo.com or follow him on Twitter!

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