Will NCAA coaches vote to allow CHL players to play U.S. college hockey?

Team Red and Team White logos are shown following the CHL Top Prospects Game. (Peter Power/CP)

NCAA men’s hockey coaches are discussing a change that could have a dramatic impact on the landscape for the best teenage hockey players in the world.

On 32 Thoughts: The Podcast, Sportsnet’s Elliotte Friedman said NCAA coaches could vote on changing a rule prohibiting Canadian Hockey League players from later playing in the U.S. college ranks after this season concludes.

Currently, players suiting up for one CHL game relinquish their NCAA eligibility.

“Even if coaches go for it, there’s the question of how quickly will the NCAA allow it to happen,” Friedman said. “So there’s that, but we are headed toward a future of where CHL players are going to be able to play NCAA hockey. The question is when.”

For decades, the CHL and NCAA have been fierce rivals. Players eligible to be drafted into the CHL in young teenage years often have to make a call on what route they are going, which has a huge impact on drafts for the Ontario Hockey League, Quebec Maritimes Junior Hockey League and Western Hockey League.

But Friedman says new NIL rules in the NCAA, allowing student-athletes to earn money for their name, image and likeness, have changed the thinking when it comes to policies around the CHL.

If a rule change like this is approved, it would have massive ramifications on many levels of hockey.

The Canadian Junior Hockey League, with 132 teams in nine regional junior-A leagues, is currently an option for elite players looking to preserve NCAA eligibility. If the NCAA allows CHL players to play, the CJHL could become less attractive for top players.

But there have been fractures in the CJHL system recently with the British Columbia Hockey League breaking out of the Hockey Canada umbrella. Last month, five teams from the CJHL’s Alberta Junior Hockey League agreed to a deal to move to the BCHL, causing hard feelings on both sides.

Sportsnet’s Jeff Marek said on the podcast that the junior-A teams would have a new role if the NCAA opens the door for CHL players.

“Those leagues would essentially become feeder leagues for (NCAA) Division III in the U.S.” Marek said.

Also, Canadian university teams in U Sports could be negatively affected. Top U Sports teams often feature many players from the CHL after they graduate from the junior ranks but do not advance directly to the professional level.

Marek also said the NHL would have to figure out rules for players drafted in the top league. Currently, NHL teams have two years to sign a player drafted from the CHL and four years to sign a player drafted from the NCAA.

Another question would be when a player would be eligible to move from the CHL to the NCAA.

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