Borgen leaves Gophers for USHL, rest of team looking for consistency after the holidays

Chris Lempesis

Minnesota’s men’s hockey forward Brent Borgen will leave the team to play for the Lincoln Stars of the United States Hockey League for the rest of the season, Lincoln assistant coach Derek Reynolds said Tuesday.

The sophomore approached Stars coach Steve Johnson about two weeks ago about the possibility, Reynolds said.

Borgen’s decision is interesting considering the USHL usually is where players go before they attend college. Reynolds said he assumed displeasure over limited playing time factored into Borgen’s decision.

Borgen has played in just three games for the Gophers this season, totaling a goal and an assist. Gophers coach Don Lucia did not return phone calls before press time.

Although he’s joining the Stars, Reynolds said Borgen still has the option of going back to play for another school, though he wasn’t sure whether Borgen would have to sit out a year before doing so. Borgen would not have to sit out if he returned to Minnesota.

Midseason report

Eighteen games into the season, No. 4 Minnesota (9-5-4, 8-4-2 WCHA) has, at times, shown it was worthy of its top preseason ranking. But Minnesota has also been lacking in effort and intensity at times.

“Obviously, early on we’ve been underachieving,” junior goaltender Kellen Briggs said Saturday night after the Gophers’ 4-3 win over North Dakota. “You can’t say that’s not the truth.”

Position by position, here’s how Minnesota has looked:

Forwards

Ryan Potulny (15 goals and nine assists for 24 points) and Phil Kessel (9-13-22) have been the Gophers’ most consistent offensive suppliers and stalwarts on the power play. In fact, Potulny is tied for the national lead with nine power-play goals.

Danny Irmen’s return Nov. 18 was a boost on and off the ice, after he missed nine games with a broken finger. The vocal leader has come back strong, totaling nine points (four goals, five assists) in eight games.

While seniors Gino Guyer and Andy Sertich have been solid defensively, Ben Gordon (3-4-7) and Justin Bostrom (4-4-8), have been pleasant offensive surprises.

Blake Wheeler (4-6-10), Mike Howe (6-3-9) and Evan Kaufmann (1-5-6) have shown flashes of strong performances, but all three have been guilty of disappearing at times.

Kris Chucko (2-7-9) and Ryan Stoa (2-1-3) entered the season with high expectations, but so far, have failed to produce.

Defensemen

This group has been hurt by the absence of Nate Hagemo, who has been battling shoulder and neck problems and has played in just three games this season. Peter Kennedy (hip) has missed significant time as well. It’s unsure when or if they will return.

While Alex Goligoski is third on the team with 14 points, P.J. Atherton has emerged as possibly Minnesota’s best defensman.

Mike Vannelli (1-5-6) and Derek Peltier (0-6-6) both have been solid defensively, but not as much offensively. The opposite can be said of Chris Harrington, who has continued to be a strong offensive contributor (1-11-12), but has had his share of defensive troubles.

Goaltenders

Briggs and Jeff Frazee have split weekends, but neither has taken hold of the job.

Briggs (6-4-2, 2.58 goals against average, .906 save percentage) has made more flashy saves than his challenger but has also been prone to struggles. Frazee (3-1-2, 3.01, .891) has, at times, looked like a potentially great goalie, but has also looked like an 18-year-old going through growing pains.

Outlook

Minnesota faces No. 10 North Dakota, No. 7 Colorado College and No. 1 Wisconsin in three consecutive weeks in January. Defending national champion Denver is also on the docket. But if the team can consistently work hard, Minnesota finally might become the team everyone thought they’d be.

“We have to find our identity,” coach Don Lucia said. “Their identity has to be a hard-working team and if we can achieve that night in and night out, it’ll give ourselves a chance to win.”