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Five players from 2018 Canada world junior team take leave of absence from their clubs

Five players from Canada's 2018 world junior team have taken a leave of absence from their current clubs in recent days amid a report that five members of that team have been asked to surrender to police to face sexual assault charges.

NHL players Michael McLeod and Cal Foote of the New Jersey Devils, Carter Hart of the Philadelphia Flyers, Dillon Dube of the Calgary Flames and former NHL player Alex Formenton, who is now with a team in Europe, all have been granted indefinite leave, with the absences announced over the past four days.

The Flyers and Swiss club HC Ambri-Piotta cited personal reasons for Hart's and Formenton's leaves; the Swiss club also said Formenton has been allowed to return to Canada. The Flames cited Dube's mental health, and the Devils did not give a reason Wednesday in announcing McLeod and Foote were on leave.

Messages left for the agents representing all five players and multiple messages sent to Hart's lawyer seeking comment were not immediately returned. The NHL Players' Association declined to comment.

London, Ontario, police launched an investigation in 2022 after word emerged that Hockey Canada had settled a lawsuit with a woman who said she was sexually assaulted by eight members of that gold medal-winning team at a gala. The Globe & Mail, citing unnamed sources, reported Wednesday that five players from that team were asked to surrender to police in the city halfway between Toronto and Detroit to face charges of sexual assault.

A spokesperson for London Police would not confirm the report when contacted by The Associated Press. “When there is an update to provide, we will share with media outlets,” Sgt. Sandasha Bough said Wednesday.

London Police announced Wednesday they would be holding a news conference on Feb. 5 to share further details “in relation to a sexual assault investigation dating back to 2018.”

Earlier in the day, Flyers general manager Daniel Briere opened his midseason state-of-the-organization news conference by saying: "We are aware of this morning’s press reports on a very serious matter. We will respond appropriately when the outcomes of the investigations are made public.

“The NHL has been very clear that teams should refer all investigation-related questions to them. In the meantime, members of the organization, including Flyers players, will not be commenting any further. That's all we can say at the moment, unfortunately."

The NHL opened its own investigation in 2022 and pledged to make those findings public.

Deputy Commissioner Bill Daly told The Associated Press by email Wednesday the league would issue a statement when it is appropriate, adding there's nothing more he could currently say. At the Stanley Cup Final in June, Daly said an independent investigator had completed work and he expected a report by midsummer that the league would then review.

“We have been in contact with the London police, continue to want to be in contact with them, make sure that there’s visibility with respect to what our process is,” Daly said June 3. “And to the extent we can understand what theirs is, that would be the goal. And then I can’t prejudge what happens from there."

The Flyers announced Hart's leave of absence Tuesday in the aftermath of the 25-year-old coming off one of his worst starts of an otherwise strong season when he allowed five goals on 15 shots in a loss to Colorado before being pulled. Briere said he did not know if the situation contributed to Hart's recent play in any way.

“I really can’t tell because we don’t know anything,” Briere said. “We’re not aware of anything. I think there’s a lot of speculation. That’s all we know.”

Asked after practice in Newark, New Jersey, if the absences of McLeod and Foote were related to the report, Devils coach Lindy Ruff said: “I don’t know. I don’t know.”

The Flames, in their Sunday announcement, about Dube said, "Dillon is under the care of health professionals, and we request that Dillon’s privacy is respected during this period.”

Formenton, 24, was a 2017 second-round draft pick of the Ottawa Senators, who did not re-sign him in 2022 after his contract expired, despite holding his rights. He has played in Switzerland's National League A since.

It was not immediately clear if or when the NHL would release the findings of its investigation or what punishments may come out of it for any players involved. There was also no clarity on the three other players alleged to be involved.

Hockey Canada has made wholesale changes after a scathing independent report and lost major sponsors in the nearly two years since this and other scandals emerged. CEO Scott Smith was ousted and the board of directors also resigned in October 2022, related to how Hockey Canada handled sexual assault allegations and how it paid out settlements.

Nike last year permanently ended its partnership with the organization after earlier pausing it, along with other sponsors, given the heavy criticism of Hockey Canada leadership.

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AP Sports Writer Dan Gelston in Voorhees, New Jersey, and AP Hockey Writer John Wawrow in Buffalo, New York, contributed to this report.

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AP hockey: https://apnews.com/hub/hockey