When Jake Gardiner got the life-altering news Wednesday, the junior defenseman for the University of Wisconsin men's hockey team was, not surprisingly, stunned.
He'd just learned that Anaheim, the NHL club that selected him in the first round of the 2008 entry draft, had traded his rights to Toronto.
"I was shocked when I heard the news,'' Gardiner said of a call from Dave McNab, the senior vice president for hockey operations for the Ducks. "But I think it's going to be good for me, a good fit.''
Gardiner, an assistant captain, is in the midst of a breakthrough season for the Badgers. With at least 10 games remaining, he has career bests in goals (seven), assists (23) and points (30). He's also second on the team with a plus-20 ratio.
Gardiner, from Minnetonka, Minn., was expected to turn pro after this season, a reality that wasn't diminished by the trade.
"I think I have a better chance of playing there earlier,'' he said after doing preliminary research on the Toronto minor-league system.
The deal isn't a surprise when you know Maple Leafs general manager Brian Burke was the GM in Anaheim when Gardiner was chosen 17th overall in 2008.
"That's huge,'' UW coach Mike Eaves said. "You need somebody in your corner that wants you in the organization.''
The only apparent downer is that Gardiner won't be playing with his current UW defensive partner, sophomore Justin Schultz, at the next level. Schultz was a second-round pick of the Ducks, also in '08, and the two friends talked about someday playing together in the NHL. Schultz is also expected to turn pro after this season.
"He wasn't happy,'' Gardiner said.
Could this serve as a distraction for Gardiner as the Badgers head down the stretch of the regular season? He said no.
"I'm fine with it,'' he said. "It's all right.''