No decision on limiting U.S. players

JIM CRESSMAN -- London Free Press

, Last Updated: 8:46 AM ET

OWEN SOUND -- The Canadian Hockey League isn't about to send its American players packing for the border just yet, and perhaps never.

A 16-member Hockey Canada committee looking into ways to better develop Canadian junior talent ended two days of meetings yesterday in Toronto.

CHL president David Branch, also commissioner of the Ontario Hockey League, said little time was spent discussing a proposal that would see major junior teams restricted to two U.S.-born players and one non-North American.

The CHL currently has no limit on Americans while each team is permitted up to two Europeans.

There are 55 Americans in the 20-team OHL, with 20 on its three U.S-based teams.

The London Knights have five on their roster -- goalie Gerald Coleman, injured defenceman Frank Rediker, and forwards Rob Schremp, Dan Fritsche and Drew Larman.

"In my mind, five is too many," said Hockey Canada president Bob Nicholson. "From my point of view, I want to create as many positions for Canadian players as possible."

Knights co-owner and general manager Mark Hunter said he wouldn't respond, except to say: "They're a big part of our team. I don't care where a player comes from."

The CHL has 56 teams, with nine based in the U.S. Hockey Canada couldn't restrict the number of Americans on the U.S. teams.

"There's nothing firm either way on how we should be going forward with this," Branch said. "I would say there's a tremendous regard and a greater understanding (by the committee) to the number of Americans we enjoy in our league and what they have meant to our league. Obviously in the OHL we place a high value on American players. Our three franchises have some outstanding players.

"I'm just excited that at a time when we're arguably the best hockey nation in the world, we're challenging ourselves to do it better."

The committee meets again early next month, then takes its proposals to the annual general meeting in May.

The committee is also looking at proposals for junior A and junior B leagues that would prop up midget hockey in this country.

"It's all about what's best for Canadian kids," Nicholson said. "I think we're going to have some movement (with the CHL on the U.S. issue). We enjoy a great partnership with the CHL."

Schremp, from Fulton, N.Y., and in his third season in the OHL, said he isn't sure how USA Hockey would react.

"We allow a lot of Canadians to come and play at our universities, so I don't think it would be fair that way," said the Edmonton Oilers' first-round draft pick.

"We don't really have any borders restricting Canadians and for kids like myself, I've had such a great opportunity to come up here and play and pursue my dream of playing in the Canadian Hockey League and I appreciate that.

"This has been the best thing for me, coming to the OHL, and the thing I wanted to do since I was 15 years old. I'm grateful for the opportunity to play here and I think it would be good for the Canadians to keep the doors open for the Americans to come up here and develop.

"Whatever's best for the kids is what they need to look out for."

Owen Sound Attack forward Bobby Ryan, a top-five pick in the next NHL draft, lives in Collingswood, N.J. It's his third season in the OHL.

"If they limit the Americans it would definitely be disappointing," Ryan said. "It's discouraging because more and more players want to come to this league. . . . It's got the best players in the world. It's been huge for me. Had I gone the other route (the U.S. under-18 program), I don't think I'd be where I am now. Playing against these guys . . . that really prepares you for everything you're going to face, hopefully . . . some day in the NHL. We look up to Canadian hockey. All Americans, when they get drafted, it's something they look forward to, being a part of a program in Canada, especially in the OHL."


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