Bor­gen watches an­other stun­ning loss by St. Cloud St.

The Buffalo News - - NHL - By Mike Har­ring­ton

UNION­DALE – It hap­pened again to St. Cloud State on Fri­day. Sabres de­fense­man Will Bor­gen lived the night­mare in per­son last year. It seemed all too fa­mil­iar watch­ing on TV this time.

There will be no Frozen Four trip to Buf­falo for the No. 1 seed in the NCAA hockey tour­na­ment af­ter St. Cloud State was up­set by Amer­i­can In­ter­na­tional, 2-1, in the NCAA West Re­gion semi­fi­nals in Fargo, N.D.

It’s the sec­ond straight year the Huskies were knocked out by a colos­sal 1-16 up­set to the cham­pion of At­lantic Hockey, the league that Cani­sius and Ni­a­gara play in. Air Force dumped St. Cloud last sea­son and Amer­i­can In­ter­na­tional – which needed over­time to beat Ni­a­gara in Har­borCen­ter last week­end in the At­lantic fi­nal – took a 2-0 lead and held on for the up­set this time.

“We ex­pect to win those games when you’re the No. 1 team but it’s an NCAA game and you know the other team will play hard,” Bor­gen, a three-year player at St. Cloud, said Satur­day in Nas­sau Coli­seum prior to the Sabres’ game against the New York Is­landers. “Their goalie played a su­per game and we just couldn’t find a way to get the puck in the net. It stinks be­cause it’s just one game but that’s how it goes.”

St. Cloud State had a 34-13 ad­van­tage in shots on goal, and it was an eerie par­al­lel to last year’s 4-1 loss to Air Force as St. Cloud had a 40-26 ad­van­tage in that game. With his sea­son over pre­ma­turely af­ter that de­feat, Bor­gen signed his three-year en­try-level con­tract with the Sabres and headed to Rochester.

“Out­shot them, out­played them, goalie played well, just couldn’t find a way to put the puck in the net,” Bor­gen said of the si­m­il­iar­ity of the two games. “Time is just go­ing way too fast in that game. Pres­sure is build­ing be­cause you ex­pect to score.

“Guys try to make in­di­vid­ual plays. ev­ery­one wants to get it done. They played hard. They played right. It’s just how it goes some­times.”

Satur­day was Bor­gen’s third NHL ap­pear­ance and he’s played a steady game in the first two, av­er­ag­ing 14:43 per con­test.

“You get a lot more com­fort­able even in two games, es­pe­cially with guys talk­ing to you on the ice,” Bor­gen said. “The first game, Marco Scan­della talked to me a ton, which helped out a lot. I’ve found com­fort. The pace is fine. It’s more just the skill level of play­ers be­ing the big­gest dif­fer­ence.”

Bor­gen had two goals, 10 as­sists and a plus-7 rat­ing in 66 games for Rochester this sea­son. He’s likely to re­turn there to wrap up the reg­u­lar sea­son and pre­pare for the Calder Cup play­offs as soon as the Sabres get a lit­tle health­ier on the blue line.

Ras­mus Ris­to­lainen (flu) and the in­jured trio of Jake McCabe, Zach Bo­gosian and Matt Hun­wick all missed Satur­day’s game. McCabe skated again and could re­turn to the lineup any day.

As the Sabres wrapped up their morn­ing skate, for­mer Is­lan­der Kyle Ok­poso en­tered the cen­ter ice cir­cle to lead the stretch. There was some chat­ter and Ok­poso was sud­denly point­ing with his stick to the Is­landers’ four Stan­ley Cup ban­ners in the rafters. What was the con­ver­sa­tion about? “Some­body made a joke about my num­ber be­ing up there in the rafters and I just said, ‘Those guys got those four things up there’,” Ok­poso said. “So we were just giv­ing each other a hard time.”

Ok­poso said he hoped the Sabres’ younger play­ers un­der­stood the legacy of great games that had taken place in the build­ing dur­ing its first run from 1972-2015 that in­cluded four straight Cups from 1980-83.

“These guys won 19 play­off se­ries in a row. That’s never go­ing to hap­pen again. It’s just not,” Ok­poso said. “That’s some­thing that’s ob­vi­ously spe­cial to the or­ga­ni­za­tion here. It’s some­thing the young kids prob­a­bly don’t know a ton about but I’m here to talk about it if they want.”

Ok­poso said he was thrilled to get an­other chance in the build­ing where he made his NHL de­but and played eight sea­sons.

“It’s a lit­tle dif­fer­ent. I never thought I’d play here again and here I am. Pretty cool,” Ok­poso said. “A lot of good mem­o­ries here. … The bones of the place you can tell are still here but every­thing vis­ually is com­pletely dif­fer­ent.”

The ca­pac­ity of the build­ing is down to just over 13,000 and all the seats were re­placed. There were lots of tech­no­log­i­cal ad­vances as well, and the team dress­ing rooms have been up­graded and re­versed, with the vis­i­tors now dress­ing in the Is­landers room where the fran­chise leg­ends pre­pared dur­ing the 70s and 80s.

“I feel like I grew up here,” Ok­poso said. The most vivid mem­ory I have here was Game 3 the first time we went to the play­offs against Pitts­burgh (in 2013). We were in the locker room be­fore the game and lit­er­ally the locker room was shak­ing. I’ll never for­get that as long as I live. It. Was. Loud.”

The Sabres’ game Sun­day night against Colum­bus will mark the third time this year a team has played in KeyBank Cen­ter com­ing off a back-to-back the pre­vi­ous night in Nashville.

The Sabres did the Nashvil­leto-Buf­falo jaunt Dec. 3-4, los­ing to Toronto in over­time, 5-4. The Leafs then did it ear­lier this month prior to their 5-2 vic­tory over the Sabres.

The Blue Jack­ets de­feated the Preda­tors, 5-2, in Bridge­stone Arena Satur­day night, with both teams in a des­per­ate play­off push. Colum­bus is try­ing to hang on to the East wild card while Nashville was tied with Win­nipeg for first in the Cen­tral.

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