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Hockey Canada has full support of CHL, giving junior players green light for Olympics

CHL president David Branch said Hockey Canada will get the full support from the major junior circuit, and that could mean a few World Junior Championship standouts find themselves on the Olympic roster in Pyeongchang.

BUFFALO – Although no official announcement has been made, has learned that the Canadian Hockey League will release its players to the Canadian Olympic team, which means there’s a good chance Jordan Kyrou and Victor Mete of Canada’s World Junior team will be on the roster when it’s announced next week.

“Hockey Canada has our full support,” CHL president David Branch told via text when asked about the status of junior players and the Olympics.

Kyrou, who leads Canada in scoring with nine points in the tournament and is only three points out of the Ontario League scoring lead despite missing the past three-plus weeks with the World Junior team, has long been speculated as a candidate for the Olympic team. Mete’s situation isn’t clear, since he’s on loan to the Canadian World Junior team from the Montreal Canadiens. If the Canadiens recall him and keep him in their lineup, he will obviously be ineligible to play in the Olympics. But if they opt to return him to the London Knights as expected, he would be able to go as a junior player.

Things with Mete are further clouded by the fact that he was injured in the outdoor game against USA Dec. 29. He played limited minutes in Canada’s game against Denmark, then missed the quarterfinal against Switzerland before logging more than 21 minutes of ice time in Canada’s 7-2 win over the Czech Republic in the semifinal Thursday night. Also, if Mete is sent back to junior, there’s a good chance his OHL rights could be traded before the league’s trade deadline next Wednesday, one day before the Canadian Olympic roster is announced. The Knights have already traded leading scorer Cliff Pu and even though they’re in second place in their division and are 8-1-1 in their past 10 games, it appears they don’t view themselves as serious playoff contender this season and are looking to the future. World Junior and London Knights teammate Robert Thomas, who has also been mentioned as a candidate for the Olympic team, could also be on the trade block when he returns.

Another name that has been batted around when it comes to the Canadian Olympic team is Anaheim Ducks prospect Sam Steel, who enters tonight’s gold medal game second in scoring on the Canadian team with eight points. Steel is a member of the Regina Pats of the Western League, who will be hosting the Memorial Cup and receive an automatic berth in the tournament, so losing Steel would not impact their fortunes as much.

Another interesting case is defenseman Cale Makar, who leads all defensemen in scoring in the tournament and has been a key element of Canada’s devastating power play, which is clicking at 52.5 percent after going 3-for-4 against the Czechs in the semifinal. Makar, who was picked fourth overall by the Colorado Avalanche in last June’s draft, plays for the University of Massachusetts-Amherst. Makar, in fact, was asked by the Canadian Olympic team to play in the Karjala Cup in Finland in November.

“I kind of just wanted to stick with my NCAA team,” Makar said. “I felt that was a little too big of a step at the time.”

(It was at this point in the proceedings that a media relations officer with Hockey Canada interjected and told reporters they were not allowed to ask questions about anything not related to the World Junior Championship and then told Makar to limit his answers only to things related to the tournament.)

Even though the NHL has barred all American League players under NHL contracts from playing in the Olympics, the same provision does not apply to junior players who have signed NHL deals, something both Kyrou (with the St. Louis Blues) and Mete have done.

“Junior players are not playing under NHL contracts while they continue to be junior players,” NHL deputy commissioner Bill Daly told in an email. “I would expect that if any were to be invited, it would be done with the prior consultation and approval of the player’s NHL team, but no, there would be no resistance or concern from an NHL perspective.”

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