MOORHEAD, Minn. — Will Borgen was eating breakfast at the rink in Rochester, N.Y., on Tuesday, March 26, when he was called to the office of Rochester Americans coach Chris Taylor. Borgen is in his first full professional hockey season with the Americans, an affiliate of the Buffalo Sabres.
Borgen began his Tuesday expecting to go to practice, go home and get ready for a game Wednesday. Turns out he had to get ready for a game that night, as Taylor informed him the Sabres had recalled the defenseman and he may have to play that night.
He was going to the NHL.
Congratulations to Will Borgen who made his #NHL debut last night with the @BuffaloSabres. Borgen is in his first pro season with the @AmerksHockey where he has appeared in 66 games this season registering 12 points from the back end! Congrats Will! #Sabres pic.twitter.com/YK8Vny25zA— PHPA (@thephpa) March 27, 2019
"I was really excited, obviously nervous too," said Borgen, who played for Moorhead High School and St. Cloud State. "I didn't know if I was playing for sure, but I had a feeling I was. They told me to be ready. I was nervous the entire time, but obviously still super excited. The NHL was a longtime goal."
Borgen drove home to pack, calling his mom, dad and siblings on the way. A car was called to drive Borgen to Ottawa, Ont. He had five hours to sit and think about what was happening.
Borgen's phone had other plans, as it was flooded with text messages on the drive.
"It's a pretty cool thing because you get so many texts from family and friends that are excited for you and congratulating you," Borgen said. "It's really nice to have all the support. You think back to the people who help you get here like your coaches, family and parents. It's just a cool thing to have all the people involved."
Borgen found out when he got to Ottawa that he was going to play. He's not sure if it was the players or the equipment manager, but his helmet was hidden from him during warmups. The team also let him go out on the ice alone for a few laps during the warmup, which a lot of teams do for a player's first game.
"It's cool. You're just out there in your first NHL game alone," Borgen said. "It's a pretty surreal moment. It's also kind of weird because you're out there alone and it's funny."
Borgen had 21 shifts, 14 minutes, 54 seconds of ice time and three hits in a 4-0 loss for Buffalo. He was not on the ice for any of the four goals. It only took Borgen a few seconds to get his first hit.
"I just tried to get into the game early and the best is to go out there and get a hit," Borgen said. "I saw an opportunity to give a guy a little bump and tried to do it right away to get into the game. Once that first shift happened, the nerves went away."
Borgen became the seventh former Moorhead hockey player to play in the NHL. The 2015 Moorhead graduate joined former Spuds Jason Blake, Ryan Kraft, Matt Cullen, Mark Cullen, Brian Lee and Chris VandeVelde to play in the NHL. He was the 54th Minnesota native to play in the NHL this season as well.
The Moorhead boys hockey coaching staff went to Buffalo Wild Wings in Moorhead to watch the game. Moorhead head coach Jon Ammerman was supposed to buy a car Tuesday, but cancelled once he heard Borgen was going to play in his NHL debut. The staff ran into some former players at Buffalo Wild Wings, who were also there to see their former teammate play in the NHL.
"It was fun to watch. I think that'll be the first of many NHL games he'll get to play," Ammerman said. "You want to see the kids succeed in whatever their dreams are. Will's dream was to play in the NHL. But (former Moorhead hockey player) Alex Mehnert was talking to me last night about him wanting to be a pilot and the steps he was taking for that. No matter what, it's just cool seeing kids you coached get their dreams."
Borgen isn't sure if the Sabres are going to keep him up for the rest of the season, but he said he'll be back in Rochester for the American Hockey League playoffs either way. The meeting with Taylor was the one thing he said he would never forget.
"As soon as my coach called me up and told me, I got really excited," Borgen said. "It was a pretty crazy moment. I wasn't expecting it at all. It was out of the blue. To get told you'll be up in the NHL, it's a pretty awesome moment."