'Team Borgen' relishes former Moorhead star's rare return to the State of Hockey
Former Moorhead Spuds and St. Cloud State Huskies star defenseman Will Borgen had an army of family and friends cheering for him as he made his return to Minnesota as a member of the NHL’s Seattle Kraken on Friday.
ST. PAUL – Hours before his return to Xcel Energy Center officially began, Seattle Kraken defenseman Will Borgen was assured that this trip to the corner of Kellogg and West Seventh could not end worse than his previous visit to the Minnesota Wild’s home ice sheet.
Borgen, who is 25 and spends his summers in a new house he had built in Moorhead, his hometown, was a freshman at St. Cloud State in March of 2016, just a year removed from his standout prep career with the Spuds. The Huskies came to St. Paul as the top seed in a NCAA regional tournament played there, and suffered a “nobody saw this coming” overtime upset at the hands of lightly-regarded Ferris State in the playoff opener.
Back in Minnesota for his first time as a professional on Friday, Borgen had notable pockets of friendly faces among the big crowd that was dominated by fans of the team in green and Iron Range red.
“Homecoming” games are nothing new in the NHL, whether it’s a Minnesotan facing the Wild, a New Englander playing the Bruins in Boston or an Ontario kid heading to Toronto to face the Maple Leafs. Kraken bench boss Dave Hakstol, the former North Dakota coach, said that having friends and family in the building is usually more of a boost than a distraction.
“Most guys, you want them to be excited. That’s fine to have a little excitement and a little extra adrenaline,” Hakstol said following the team’s morning skate. “As long as you’re able to get the reins on it and just focus in on the job at hand…Borg will be fine tonight.”
On the arena’s club level, Will’s mother Lori had a group of 43 fans there to watch the blueliner wearing number 3 for the NHL’s newest team. In another corner of the rink, suite 40 was rented out by Will’s father Bill and stepmother Terri, where another three-dozen or more Minnesotans with a sudden affinity for the Kraken – or at least for one of their defensemen – gathered.
Bill Borgen, who farmed wheat and sugar beets north of Moorhead for many years and now owns a horse boarding business, said the suite ended up costing around $300 per person, but with elderly parents who don’t handle stairs well, it was worth the investment for a rare business visit by Will to the State of Hockey. With his son playing home games on the West Coast, which has a two-hour time zone difference, Bill said he stays up late and has not missed a game where Will has played, but that is not always the case.
“I don’t text him to ask if he’s playing, I just watch the lineups, and if he’s playing, I’m watching,” Bill said.
While dad’s crew was living the suite life, Lori – a teacher in Hawley by trade – spent warmups on the glass, and caught her son’s eye long enough for him to loft a few pucks over the glass as souvenirs to take back to the Red River Valley.
Borgen went to Seattle in the expansion draft last summer after playing his first 14 NHL games with the Buffalo Sabres. Lori and her partner Peter made numerous trips to Buffalo and to Rochester, New York, which is where the Sabres minor league team plays, in past seasons. She made two trips to Seattle and another to Las Vegas for a Kraken game this season, only to see Will scratched from the lineup all three times.
“We weren’t crowd favorites right in our area,” Lori joked, after Team Borgen made plenty of first period noise when Seattle took a 2-0 lead.
For Will, it was just another chance to prove he belongs on a top-level roster. Friday’s game was the 77th in Kraken history but just the 31st for Borgen, who played sparingly in the first half of the season. Seattle made its NHL debut on Oct. 12, but Borgen made his first appearance in a Kraken sweater on Nov. 27.
“It’s been all right for me. It’s been nice as of late, being in the lineup consistently,” Will said. “It had its ups and downs when I wasn’t playing. That always sucks, but that’s part of it, just waiting for my turn in the lineup.”
His most memorable time on the ice came in the second period when he and Wild right winger Brandon Duhaime shed their gloves and squared off just outside the Kraken crease. Both ended up getting five for fighting. Borgen doesn’t fight often, but often plays a physical game and leading the Kraken in hits is a not-uncommon occurrence. As so often happens, that Seattle two-goal advantage proved to be the worst lead in hockey, as Minnesota scored the next half dozen consecutive goals and cruised to a 6-3 win, snapping the Kraken’s franchise record three-game winning streak.
With a game in Dallas on Saturday night, the Kraken were bound for the airport not too long after the final horn, but Borgen’s two big cheering sections were hopeful to see him, even for just a minute or two after the game. If not, he will be back in Moorhead in a few weeks, training for another NHL season, and the rare Minnesota homecomings that go with it.