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Colorado College's Erik Middendorf and Vermont's Martin Frechette battle for the puck during the hockey game at the Broadmoor World Arena in Colorado Springs on Saturday, Dec. 8, 2018. (Photo by Kelsey Brunner/The Gazette)

Another Tiger has headed back to juniors.

Even though he appeared in every game since arriving at Colorado College as an 18-year-old freshman, sophomore Erik Middendorf elected to leave for the USHL this week.

According to a release, David Wilkie, the coach and general manager of the Omaha Lancers and father of Middendorf’s CC teammate Chris Wilkie, put a claim on the forward as soon as he heard of his plans to leave college.

The Chicago Steel then quickly dealt two first-round selections and a third-rounder in Phase I drafts, picking up two picks in return, for Middendorf.

He had two assists through six CC games this season, playing on third and fourth lines, largely with freshman Sam Renlund and senior Alex Berardinelli. He had the primary assist on Bailey Conger’s power-play goal that tied the game at 2 on Saturday at The Broadmoor World Arena.

But the touted prospect out of Scottsdale, Ariz., wasn’t getting the minutes he wanted. He felt he’d progressed but his role was the same.

“'I could stay here being a fourth-liner for four years, but I didn’t want to give up my dream of playing pro,’” Erik’s father, Matt, recalled his son saying.

Matt said Erik loved CC, benefited from the leadership of the previous senior class and found it difficult to say goodbye. It just wasn’t the right path.

“A weight was lifted off his shoulders,” Matt said of the decision. “It was dragging him down.”

Backup goaltender Alec Calvaruso and forward Ty Pochipinski (now with Air Force) departed for juniors midway through last season. Both played sparingly at CC.

Middendorf was in a far bigger role, and was a big name among the Class of 2022. But the class’ second-youngest player's tenure was overshadowed by that of National Collegiate Hockey Conference all-rookie team selection Bryan Yoon, current co-captain Grant Cruikshank and consistent contributor Ben Copeland.

The U.S. National Development Program product put up 13 points (seven goals, six assists) through 47 games with Colorado College, perhaps most notably the game-winning goal in Game 1 of an NCHC quarterfinals series at Western Michigan in spring. He appeared in all 41 games as a freshman and his seven goals were tied for eighth among NCHC freshmen.

Tigers coach Mike Haviland said he was surprised by Middendorf’s decision, calling early departures and transfers an “epidemic” in the current era of college sports.

He pointed to Middendorf’s special teams inclusion and “12-13” minutes per game. “His decision,” he said.

“There are first-line guys on the fourth lines in college hockey,” Haviland said. “You have to be willing to accept that.”

College Hockey News' Greg Cameron tweeted that he was told Middendorf's name is in the transfer portal. Middendorf went home — just enough time to do some laundry, his father said — and is set to join the Steel in Sioux City, Iowa, for a series Nov. 16-17.

Steel general manager Ryan Hardy and Middendorf have history. Hardy served in several roles for USA Hockey’s National Team Development Program.

“Our belief is that we can help him find new frontiers in his development and that he can help us in our pursuit to return the Clark Cup to Chicago,” Hardy said in the team release.

Matt Middendorf said that sounds great for Erik.

“He feels like there’s a really great connection. He just wants to play more minutes.”

Haviland said Jack Gates and Brian Williams, on and off the game-day roster as injuries and space allowed the last few years, get a chance to take over the vacated spot.

“Guys are ready to take more on,” Haviland said.

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