The lawns in Jake Middleton’s Minneapolis neighborhood are neatly manicured, with swatches of flawless green found on baseball fields and backyard barbecues.
On this October day, the temperature maxed out in the 70s, but there was a dusting of leaves around the trees. The seasonal change means hockey is near, and the end of the Wild defenseman cruising around on his motorcycle.
These two passions of Middleton’s are on opposite schedules all summer, day and night shifts that have his Harley Davidson parked while he’s playing and rumbling down the road when he’s not.
In the past, when that kickstand lowered at summer’s end for the last time, uncertainty awaited him: Will he make the team?
There’s no question this year.
A last pick in his draft class, a guy who received multiple camp invites before repeatedly getting promoted then demoted, Middleton showed up for this season as a lock in an NHL lineup for the first time.
He parlayed a trade to the Wild into a three-year contract all while staying true to the no-nonsense, throwback defenseman he’s always been — toothless grin and bushy mustache included.
There were potholes and detours, but he made it. Middleton, 26, has arrived at his destination.
“It’s all going to be new to me,” Middleton said. “But I’m excited about it and just looking to make the most of it.”
On the move
Like hockey, motorcycles have been in Middleton’s life from a very young age.
His dad, Steve, had an interest, and Middleton graduated from sitting on the bike to going for a spin around the block with Steve when he got older.
“He got the bug,” Steve said.
As for hockey, Middleton was shuffling around the kitchen linoleum floor in his socks as a 2-year-old, what he called skating, while wearing an ice cream bucket as a helmet. Steve and Middleton’s mom, Darlene, were constantly fishing plastic pucks out from under the stove and refrigerator of their Alberta home.
Middleton woke up an hour before school to skate on an outdoor rink in the front yard, a sheet without any boards illuminated by a 100-watt light bulb, and he was back on the ice when he returned home, staying out until bedtime.
He eventually started playing on a team and after he and his family moved across Canada, Middleton was drafted eighth overall into the Ontario Hockey League.