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Fight nearly costs two Top Prospects chance to shine

by Aaron Vickers

CALGARY -- For a brief moment, Jacob Middleton and Aaron Haydon thought they had lost their chance to shine.

Middleton, from Team Cherry and Haydon, from Team Orr, renewed Ontario Hockey League acquaintances and dropped the gloves at 17:41 of the first period, a staged-but-spirited tilt that brought the Scotiabank Saddledome crowd to its feet during the BMO CHL/NHL Top Prospects Game on Wednesday.

But prior to the bout, both removed their helmets -- and under Canadian Hockey League rule, each was assessed a game misconduct. However, the ruling was rescinded in the first intermission thanks in part to Team Cherry assistant coach Paul Reinhart.

"I didn't help get them back into the game because I endorse what they did," Reinhart said. "In fact, it's stupidity and unnecessary and uncalled for. What I wanted to say was that they're here for a purpose, not to fight. You're here to play hard.

"I just didn't want to see poor judgment necessarily result in a lost opportunity."

Haydon, who has been involved in four fights with the Niagara IceDogs this season, didn't know that he and Middleton would face expulsion from the Top Prospects Game for removing their helmets.

"The bucket off, that was controversial and I didn't know if I was going to take it off or not," said Haydon, ranked 28th among North Americans by Central Scouting. "That kind of turned into a little problem."

But after 20 minutes of action featuring the top draft-eligible players in the Canadian Hockey League, Reinhart met with Team Orr coach Tim Hunter and the pair decided that, in part with officials, the 18-year-olds would be allowed to return to the game after serving their major penalties.

"The guys in the locker room were being positive and kept me positive about coming back," Haydon said. "Coach [Hunter] came up to me and said he was going to do whatever he could to get me back in the game, so I don't think I was worried, but I was kicked out. Things happen. I was pretty positive about it."

It's not the first time two players have fought in the Top Prospects Game.

In 2013, Kerby Rychel scrapped with Ryan Hartman while Curtis Lazar and Darnell Nurse squared off against each other. In 2012, Raphael Bussieres and Mathew Dumba dropped the gloves, as did Tom Wilson and Dalton Thrower.

The Thrower-Wilson scrap gave Middleton, ranked 87th, the inspiration to take off his helmet.

"I just wanted to make a statement when I was out there," said Middleton, who was added to the roster as an injury replacement for Saskatoon Blades defenseman Nelson Nogier. "I was late coming into the Top Prospects Game so I figured if I made a bang when I was out here it wouldn't hurt my resume.

"I remembered Tom Wilson a few years ago fought Dalton Thrower and did the same thing. I figured he made a statement with that so why not try the same thing. It's something guys would remember."

But it nearly forced him out of the showcase with more than two periods left to play.

"The problem is that they thought that they had seen it in the past in this game and therefore they thought it was OK," Reinhart said. "Even if that were, what's not OK is staged fighting. It was uncalled for, poor judgment for those kids and a lot of those young kids who are watching the CHL. It's just not a conducive part of the game."

Despite Reinhart's feelings, his lobbying played a big role in allowing Middleton and Haydon to continue showing their skills to approximately 250 NHL scouts and hockey executives in attendance.

In the end, it worked out for both players.

"I had a feeling in my gut that everything would be all right and work out," Middleton said. "There was a time where I was worried.

"But there was a light of hope shining at the end of the tunnel."

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