Borgen watches another stunning loss by St. Cloud St.
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.