Will Borgen’s mean streak unveiled itself after just 1:42 of ice time.
The 25-year-old didn’t play the first 21 games with the Kraken, the team that selected him away from Buffalo in the expansion draft. He was unsure what he had to do to break into what was, on the surface, a deep defensive group.
In November, in a back-to-back in Florida with captain Mark Giordano in COVID protocol, he finally got that call.
And in 1:42 of shift time, that frustration, and desire, spilled out.
“It was tough at the beginning,” he said. “It's not fun not playing. We got a lot of good defenseman on this team so you can kind of understand it, too. But yeah, it's been nice being able to be in the lineup more often. I didn't get to play many games last year due to injury and stuff, so it's kind of been a long time for me.”
The first time Jack Ahcan saw the Will Borgen mean streak he was surprised. Borgen comes off as a quiet guy in interviews and to his coaches, and a fun person to players.
So when he gets rough on the ice, sometimes it can take people aback. But that’s just the type of game he can bring, and adjust, to whatever situation he’s in.
“He can flip the switch pretty fast and I don't think many people could stop him when he does it,” said Ahcan, a Providence Bruins defenseman who was Borgen’s defense partner in college. “I think he's learned a little bit since college. Just being a little bit more professional about it all but that's definitely a big reason why he's playing in Seattle and how he got got to where he is today is that little switch that he has, and I think it's funny because I know him well personally, but I'm sure a lot of guys (in Seattle) have seen it now. It's pretty eye opening to see what he does.”
Ahcan is a year younger than Borgen, but the two became close at St. Cloud on one of the best top-four defenses in the nation. They still FaceTime about once a week, according to Ahcan, and he’s enjoyed seeing how Borgen has molded a role for himself in Seattle.
“There's a few times through college I had to kind of drag him out of a pile, he likes you know, the rough game,” he said. “It's just kind of a reason why he's in the NHL, and it's an awesome thing.”
Bob Motzko recognized that mean streak in Borgen early on.
“He’s got a short fuse,” said the former St.Cloud State head coach, who now heads the University of Minnesota. “He’s fiercely competitive. You have a great athlete with a mean streak as your defenseman, that can be a great asset. And he was a great asset.”
Borgen is routinely referred to by his teammates as one of the strongest personalities in the locker room. He had been a man of mystery for the first quarter of the season, though. While Haydn Fleury and Carson Soucy rotated between the lineup and seventh defenseman spot, it was seemingly assumed Borgen would be the odd man out.
That reasonably weighed on him; a standout at St. Cloud State, the Sabres had high hopes for him. Even when he was selected in expansion, Sabres fans expressed frustration on social media.
Though he wasn’t getting into games, the Kraken didn’t want to risk sending Borgen through waivers to the AHL; so he remained in NHL purgatory.
“He’s such a competitive person, he’s going to wait it out,” said Motzko. “They couldn’t send him down. He was waiting for his opportunity…. He’s going to make his mark. He’s going to let the coaching staff know he’s there. And I wouldn’t bet against him finding and everyday spot in the lineup.”
The Kraken knew Borgen had value; but the Moorhead, Minnesota native has always been on that peripheral, always on the brink of being a part of something that could show his worth.
In his first 16 games with the Kraken, Borgen has posted just a goal and an assist. Every game, though, he’s seemed to have a moment that stands out. Most of the time it’s been little plays, a blocked shot, a big hit to change possession in the neutral zone, a stretch pass that leads to an offensive chance on the rush.
“He works extremely hard and practices hard, obviously put in the time,” said Giordano. “Didn't get into (games) there for a while, but he stuck with it and worked hard. And now he's getting into games and getting rewarded with playing well, he's contributed, he’s a guy who can really speed it up.”
While the Kraken have dealt with injuries and COVID issues on the blue line, Borgen forced himself into the conversation. In the past two months he hasn’t been an afterthought, and while the lineup issues have necessitated another D-man, there’s been nights where he was the choice over Fleury or Jeremy Lauzon.
Borgen was a part of the 2018 USA Olympic team, along with current Kraken teammate Ryan Donato. He was the only collegiate defenseman selected to the roster, and he didn’t get into a single game.
So when he was on the outside of yet in the center of a major hockey moment again in Seattle, it was a familiar feeling. He made the roster of the first Seattle Kraken team ever, yet spent the first 25 percent of the season on the cusp of participating.
It’s a moment Borgen has fought for his entire hockey career, just to participate in the moment at all.
“I felt good coming to training camp, practicing, and then just wasn’t playing,” said Borgen. “You get extra work after practice, but nothing is like game shape. Once you're playing games, and you kind of get back into it after a couple feeling more comfortable and whatnot. I just tried to have a good attitude every day when I came to the rink and stuff because it's not it's not an easy position to be in, Because other people have been in this position before. Just wait it out for my opportunity.”
Borgen has spent his entire career in hockey waiting to exit the outskirts of the kairos of hockey. With the Kraken, he may be doing just that, after years of waiting his turn.
Maybe that’s where the mean streak comes from.
“It’s just playing hockey,” he said. “You might feel a little nerves, when you get back in, the first couple of shifts. But once that shift is over, it all goes away.”
The nerves seemed to dissipate in that first 1:42 for Borgen as a member of the Kraken. He cemented himself as a part of their first season, and perhaps now with the opportunity to make an impact, beyond being a name listed next to a moment in history.