Jacob Middleton was the No. 8 pick in last spring's OHL draft (Mike Carroccetto photo)Junior hockey demands you grow up quickly. Take last week, when Jacob Middleton got dropped off by his parents to resume the second half of the season one day and was traded across the province the next.
One wrinkle of trading in the Ontario Hockey League is that a team cannot trade a future first-round choice, but can trade its current first-rounder during the first 10 days of January. Four top picks changed teams before last week's trade deadline, including Middleton who went from contending Owen Sound to rebuilding Ottawa in a big trade for star defenceman Cody Ceci on Jan. 7. The strapping defenceman went from playing close to his family's Stratford, Ont., home to a city he had only visited once, for a midget tournament.
"I got to Owen Sound on the Sunday night, my parents [Darlene and Steve Middleton] dropped me off, and on the Monday afternoon I was traded," the 6-foot-3, 194-pound Middleton related. "I just let them know that I could get a ride with [Joseph] Blandisi [the 18-year-old winger who was also traded to Ottawa]. I have a younger brother [Keaton] who's in hockey, so I just said, 'take care of him, I got a ride up to Ottawa and I'll be okay.'
"They were fine with it," Jacob Middleton added. "They just want me to develop as a hockey player. Wherever the best fit is for me, they're happy."
That explanation probably reveals why hockey players and hockey parents are different from those who wouldn't want their child to play major junior because kids are treated as disposable assets. In Middleton's case, he was the third-highest OHL priority selection draft pack among 1996-born defencemen after the Barrie Colts' Aaron Ekblad and Kingston Frontenacs' Roland McKeown. Both have become workhorses for their teams. Middleton, 17, has been set back this season by missing 7½ weeks due to a high ankle sprain and being below several older defencemen on Owen Sound's depth chart. He appeared in only 14 games for the Attack before the trade.
"I can't really say it's going to be possible to make up for lost time, so I'm taking it as a fresh start," he says. "From here on, I'm going to think of it as the start of my season."
Middleton fit in one practice with Ottawa, which is in last place in the OHL, before being put right into the starting lineup for his first game. Since the 67's are in a full rebuild, this is an extended audition for him to indicate whether he can quickly become a top-notch defenceman.
"We'll just bring him along, give him some ice time as he deserves it and make sure that he's playing the game the right way," 67's coach-GM Chris Byrne, who took time off from coaching to go scout the world under-17 challenge when Middleton was playing for Team Ontario, says of the defenceman.
"He's not Ceci," Byrne adds. "There's only one Cody Ceci. But we like what we see out of him so far."
Two of the other first-rounders who were traded, Zach Bratina (Plymouth to Saginaw) and Brendan Perlini (Barrie to Niagara), each stayed in the same division. (The Kitchener Rangers sent 6-foot-5 centre Matt Schmalz to the Sudbury Wolves as part of the ante for defenceman Frank Corrado.)
In contrast, Middleton went from Owen Sound and a quintessential junior hockey barn, the Harry Lumley Bayshore Community Centre, to playing in Ottawa at Scotiabank Place. After arriving at the latter and looking up, way up, at the rafters, Middleton couldn't help but laugh at how quickly his hockey life changed.
"It happened really fast. This is kind of a step up from the last rink I played in."
Neate Sager is a writer for Yahoo! Canada Sports. Follow him on Twitter @neatebuzzthenet. Please address any questions, comments or concerns to firstname.lastname@example.org.