Going into each season, Minnesota State men’s hockey coach Mike Hastings has players he knows will likely spend most of the year on the lineup bubble.
If a player shows well in practice, it could lead to more opportunities. However, if you have a team as loaded as Hastings’ group was a year ago, doing all the right things Monday through Thursday still might not be enough to get consistent playing time.
“I understand, and our staff does, that position is a lot harder of a position to be in than any other,” Hastings said. “You’re wondering everyday, if you don’t have a good day, is that going to be the day that slides you out of the lineup.”
As a freshman last season, Cade Borchardt was one of the players in that position.
After being in the lineup for the season-opener against Arizona State, Borchardt played in only nine games the rest of the way. In 10 games, Borchardt had no points and only four shots on goal.
“Last year was a long year for me personally,” Borchardt said. “You want to be in the lineup every night — I wasn’t.
“I just tried to stick with it mentally, stay strong ... during the week, I would just look at it like I was going to play, and if I did, I did, and if I didn’t, I’d just keep working.”
A year later, it would be hard to imagine an MSU lineup without Borchardt. Through seven games, he leads the team with nine points and is quickly earning Hastings’ trust as one of the team’s top forwards.
“He never went away ... he just kind of kept going. He just kept staying after it,” Hastings said.
After last season ended, it was clear there were shoes that needed to be filled, and Borchardt got to work. Hastings said he first noticed signs of a breakout in the summer, where Borchardt greatly improved his strength and conditioning.
Improving in those areas allowed Borchardt to become better in a place that can sometimes be overlooked by wingers: the defensive zone.
“Every year, I think that’s one of the biggest things I’ve been working on, is just my 200-foot game,” Borchardt said. “I think every single player needs to play on both sides of the rink, and if you can do that, you’re really hard to play against.”
Borchardt’s offensiveproduction has been visible on the stat sheet, but his defensive contributions have been just as important.
MSU associate head coach Todd Knott, who runs the penalty kill, immediately asked Hastings to get Borchardt time on that unit at the start of the season, and the rest has been history.
Borchardt is now usually one of the first two forwards on the ice in PK situations, and that won’t likely be changing.
“I think one reason Todd was very comfortable with Cade was because of his hockey sense. Penalty killing is anticipation ... can you read what’s going to happen before it happens and react to it in a way that’s going to stop a team from having a numerical advantage,” Hastings said. “He took that opportunity and ran with it.”
Follow Kevin Dudley on Twitter @Dudley7Kevin.